GENEVA (Sep. 29)
An international arbitration panel, by a 4-1 vote, awarded the Taba area to Egypt on Thursday, but left in question a 200-yard strip of beach over which Israel and Egypt will have to come to a separate understanding.
Nevertheless, the 6-year-old boundary dispute on Taba and 13 other locations claimed by both countries was finally settled.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department was quick to praise the outcome. “We are pleased that this longstanding difference between Egypt and Israel has been amicably resolved,” department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said Thursday.
“It is now up to the parties to implement the decision fully, expediently and in good faith as they have agreed to do, and as the (Camp David) peace treaty requires,” she added.
The verdict was announced at ceremonies in the Geneva city hall, two years after Israel and Egypt agreed to binding arbitration. The process began in Geneva in December 1986.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday afternoon that Israel would honor the judgment of the arbitration panel.
Peres told reporters he made that commitment to the foreign minister of Egypt, Esmat Abdel Meguid, with whom he had just concluded a 45-minute meeting.
Neither man would say when the decision would be implemented. They explained that they had to return to their respective capitals to discuss the matter and further study the arbitration panel’s ruling.
Peres told reporters that Israel honors its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, and inasmuch as the Taba arbitration was provided for under the peace treaty, it was going to honor that as well.
Peres refused to respond to charges by Premier Yitzhak Shamir, who accused him of being responsible for the outcome of the Taba arbitration.
SHOCKED BY DEBATE
A close aide to Peres said the foreign minister and his entourage were “shocked” by the political debate initiated by Likud as a result of the Taba decision.
The aide accused Likud of putting petty party interests above the national interests of the country. He said Peres would not respond until his plane lands in Israel Friday afternoon.
The arbitration panel in Geneva, consisting of five experts in international law from Sweden, Switzerland, France, Israel and Egypt, ruled unanimously in Egypt’s favor on five border locations and in favor of Israel on four.
But the ruling on the location of five other border markers, resulting in the award of Taba to Egypt, was by a 4-1 decision.
Professor Ruth Lapidot, the Israeli member of the panel, dissented in a written statement issued as an appendix to the ruling.
She said the majority had sanctioned as border markers “pillars erroneously erected at locations inconsistent with the lawfully recognized international boundary between Egypt and the former mandated territory of Palestine.”
That line was originally marked in 1906 by an agreement between Britain, which had asserted a protectorate over Egypt, and the Ottoman Turks, who then ruled Palestine.
Taba is a 765-yard strip of beach on the Red Sea adjoining the Israeli resort town of Eilat. The panel, which inspected the site last February, left the final 200-yard stretch from the beach to the edge of the sea undefined.
This leaves unsettled the status of the Avia Sonesta, a luxury hotel Israelis erected on the beach some years ago.
Nabil el-Arabi, the Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We are very satisfied and as far as we are concerned, the issue is over.”
Immediately after the verdict was announced, Arabi met with Avraham Tamir, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the ministry’s legal adviser, Robi Sabel.
Tamir said the two countries would have to come to an understanding over the unresolved portion of the Taba boundary.
The Israeli delegation which came to Geneva to hear the decision reportedly is of two opinions.
Some members say Israel must stick to the agreement and implement it. Others say the uncertain aspects should be exploited to gain time.
(JTA correspondents Yitzhak Rabi at the United Nations and Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)