JERUSALEM (Jul. 25)
Partisan recriminations over the handling of the Taba border dispute with Egypt enlivened a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir started the uproar by intimating that the Labor Party had bullied Likud into accepting binding arbitration of the dispute, which now seems likely to uphold Egypt’s claims to the tiny strip of Red Sea beach instead of Israel’s.
“Those who supported arbitration rather than conciliation served Egypt’s interests rather than Israel’s,” Shamir claimed. He was clearly referring to his differences with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres in 1985 and 1986.
Peres was prime minister at that time. Shamir, who was foreign minister, insisted that the conciliation process had not been exhausted, while Peres pressed for international arbitration.
Both methods of settling bilateral disputes are allowed under the terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The Taba dispute was submitted to an international panel of five experts, which spent most of last year sifting thousands of documents and hearing oral arguments by both sides in Geneva.
Attempts at conciliation — negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise — continued with the support and encouragement of the United States. But they had failed to make progress by the time the arbitrators adjourned last February to begin deliberations. It is widely assumed the international panel has decided in Egypt’s favor.
Conciliation efforts have now been revived. The arbitration panel has agreed to delay announcement of its decision until September to give the disputants time to hammer out a compromise.
A new round of conciliation talks is ex- pected to open in Cairo in two weeks, with Shamir’s top aide, Yosef Ben-Aharon, heading the Israeli delegation.
But Shamir’s tough stand does not augur well for the process. He has already refused an Egyptian offer to give Israel free access to the luxury resort hotel and vacation village it has built at Taba, provided Israel cedes sovereignty over the area to Egypt.
Shamir’s implication that Peres was serving Egypt rather than Israel drew cries of outrage from Labor members of the committee and their allies.
“Rubbish,” shouted Laborite Micha Harish. “Disgraceful,” said Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement. Likud members shouted rejoinders. Shamir picked up his papers and stalked out of the chamber.