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Israel Ready for Compromise with Egypt on Taba Dispute

Israel says it is willing to resume negotiations with Egypt for a compromise solution to their border dispute over Taba.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said Thursday on Israel Radio that Premier Yitzhak Shamir is prepared to reopen the talks under the auspices of the legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, Abraham Sofaer.

The Taba dispute was submitted to an international arbitration panel in March, after more than a year of hearings in Geneva. Its verdict, which will be binding under international law, is expected in September.

But the panel’s decision can be postponed at the request of both parties, Ben-Aharon pointed out.

The United states has been working behind the scenes for a compromise solution even while the arbitration panel was hearing the arguments of both sides.

Sofaer shuttled between Israel and Egypt last spring toward that end. His proposal was accepted by the Egyptians, but not by Israel, as Ben-Aharon made clear Thursday.

The State Department adviser would vest sovereignty of Taba with Egypt. But Israel would be endowed with rights of access to the half-mile-square strip of beach on the Red Sea, where Israeli entrepreneurs have built a resort hotel and vacation village.

Ben-Aharon maintained that Sofaer’s solution would only set the stage for future disputes. He felt a better compromise could be reached “which would give both sides a sense of achievement” and at the same time provide precise rules of possession and access to prevent future disagreements.

The Israeli official was vague about sovereignty. He seemed to imply that Israel is prepared to forgo it, provided its access rights and the right to operate the tourist facilities at Taba is iron-clad.

Ben-Aharon explained that Israel prefers a compromise to a solution imposed by arbitrators. He said the panel would determine only where the boundary should be in the area, leaving open for further exhausting negotiations the questions of access and possession.

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