JERUSALEM (Sep. 9)
Whether Premier Shimon Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would hold their summit meeting Thursday was still unclear Tuesday as Israeli and Egyptian negotiators in Cairo engaged in last-minute efforts to reach a compromise agreement on arbitration of the Taba border dispute. The meeting was postponed from Wednesday because of the same disagreement.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismet Abdel-Meguid met with both teams at midday Tuesday and another negotiating session was planned for the evening. Meguid told reporters afterwards that the summit still could take place.
Israel Radio announced earlier that Peres had ordered the Israeli delegation to return home after the morning round of talks ended inconclusively. But Peres apparently later agreed to an evening session which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy will attend.
Murphy’s hasty return to Cairo from a visit to Saudi Arabia was seen here as a sign of intensive pressure being applied on Egypt by the U.S. to go ahead with the summit. Mubarak has insisted there can be no summit until the Taba issue is settled.
PROBLEM WITH ARBITRATOR
A snag developed when Egypt and Israel failed to agree on the third member of the three-man arbitration panel and on the position of boundary markers for Taba. Taba is a 25-acre strip of beach front on the Red Sea and is held by Israel. Egypt claims it is part of Sinai and thus Egyptian territory.
Israeli commentators believe that Taba is being used by the Egyptians as a pretext to avoid a summit that they fear would score no breakthrough on the broader Palestinian issues. They noted that the semi-official Cairo newspaper Al Ahram and other Egyptian media have been focussing on the Palestinian issue rather than Taba.
Israeli reporters in Cairo have pointed to Mubarak’s top aide, Osama El-Baz, as the toughest Egyptian policymaker. They noted his frequent meetings with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization while the pre-summit talks with Israel were under way.
Mubarak himself exchanged letters this week with PLO chief Yasir Arafat, presumably part of an effort to heal the rift between the PLO and Jordan, and present Israel with a United Arab front on the Palestinian questions, barring rejectionists.
LIKUD SLAMS PERES
Meanwhile, Likud leaders have mounted a barrage against Peres, alleging he is too willing to grant concessions to Cairo. Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens said Tuesday that Israel’s over-enthusiasm to hold a summit meeting in contrast with Cairo’s reluctance could hardly give the average Israeli a feeling of self-respect.
Likud MK Yoram Aridor blasted Peres for weakness and concessions over Taba. He claimed it was the Likud partners in the unity coalition government who forced Peres to give no further ground.
Labor Party spokesmen flatly rejected Likud charges. They insisted Peres has stood firm wherever Israel’s interests could allow no further compromise. They stressed that Peres had made it clear that he would not be pressured by Egypt over Taba in return for a summit meeting.
Peres has maintained all along that a summit with Mubarak would thaw the chill that has pervaded Jerusalem’s relations with Cairo since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and Egypt recalled its Ambassador from Tel Aviv. Peres believes a summit would lead rapidly to a full normalization of relations under the terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.