Reports That Egypt Will Win Taba Dispute Trigger Squabble

Reports that an international panel of arbitrators will favor Egypt’s claim to Taba triggered angry recriminations here Tuesday between Labor Party and Likud politicians.

The panel will formally announce its binding ruling Thursday. But the unofficial word from reliable sources is that the arbitrators have decided to favor Egypt’s claim to ownership of the one-mile-square strip of beach near the Israeli resort city of Eilat.

The reports have created a political firestorm here. Likud officials accused Labor members of the government of knuckling under to Egyptian terms in the arbitration process. Laborites blamed Likud intransigence for failure to achieve a compromise with Egypt that would have obviated the need for arbitration.

Israeli and Egyptian officials will fly to Geneva on Thursday to hear the formal verdict. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel and his Egyptian counterpart, Esmat Abdel Meguid, are meeting in New York to work out procedures for implementing the decision.

WILL ABIDE BY RULING

Reports from New York on Monday said the two countries have reaffirmed their solemn commitment to abide by the arbitration ruling.

It will cover not only Taba, but 14 other disputed locations along the Israeli-Egyptian border. Some are only a few square yards in size but one is larger than Taba. There have been no indications how the panel ruled in those disputes.

The Taba issue dominated the dispute during more than a year of arbitration hearings, held in Geneva.

Although it is a tiny area — it can be walked across in five minutes — and, both countries concede, has no strategic value, it has become an emotional symbol.

Moshe Arens, a Likud minister without portfolio and Likud’s election campaign manager, charged Tuesday that the Laborites in the Inner Cabinet forced the government to agree to Egyptian terms.

He was referring to the wording of the crucial questions put to the arbitration panel in Geneva, which, Arens said, guided their verdict.

The panel consisted of five prominent international lawyers, three from neutral countries and one each from Israel and Egypt.

Another Likud official, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Moshe Katsav, claimed that the Labor Party threatened to break up the national unity government unless Israel gave in to the Egyptian position on this key matter.

Laborites retorted sharply. Energy Minister Moshe Shahal said Premier Yitzhak Shamir and other Likud ministers repeatedly spurned compromise proposals that would have allowed Israel to retain control over a luxury hotel and holiday village it built in Taba.

A Likud official headed an unsuccessful mission to Cairo last month aimed at reaching a compromise.

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