Israel Striking Conciliatory Note on Taba and Mideast Peace Talks

Israel is seeking a swift, amicable agreement with Egypt to settle outstanding issues over Taba, the strip of beach on the Red Sea awarded to Egypt by international arbitration last year.

The Inner Cabinet met Wednesday to map strategy for the final talks between the two countries on the matter.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens are clearly reconciled to the arbitration decision and hope that its full implementation will improve relations with Egypt and the political climate generally.

Israel in fact seems to be enjoying a rare–and possibly short-lived — period of goodwill on the international scene.

Arens, who just completed an intensive round of diplomatic talks in Paris, found a readiness among European diplomats attending an international conference there to reserve criticism of Israel and hear him out.

That was coupled with firmly articulated expectations of new ideas from Israel to match the Palestine Liberation Organization’s perceived new moderation.

Arens, for his part, urged the world community to give Israel time to formulate its peace ideas, without pressure and without taking sides. He reiterated that call on his return from Paris Tuesday night.

NOT OPPOSED TO U.N. AUSPICES

Shamir and his aides, meanwhile, continued to foster an image of moderation.

The prime minister and his Likud coalition have been adamantly opposed to the idea of an international peace conference under U.N. auspices, which is favored by the Labor Party and by many of Israel’s friends and allies abroad.

Now Shamir is saying the framework of peace talks does not really matter.

He told a group of visiting members of the European Parliament on Tuesday that big power or U.N. auspices were possible for direct talks between Israel and its neighbors.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said the question of auspices was “marginal,” as long as the talks themselves are direct.

The Jerusalem Post quoted him Wednesday as citing the U.N. role in bringing about a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war.

Government sources are stressing, however, that Israel will make no concessions toward the PLO or to the idea of withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They indicated that Shamir and Arens will eventually produce a revamped, more generous version of Israel’s longstanding autonomy plan.

There is also renewed talk in government circles of holding elections in the administered territories and an explicit readiness of Israel to talk to the elected Palestinian representatives.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was reported this week to have resumed his own discreet meetings with non-PLO Palestinian figures from the territories.

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Egyptian talks over Taba are expected to focus on tourism. Parallel talks will be held between Egyptian authorities and the Israeli owners of the Sonesta Hotel, a resort built at Taba some years ago.

The Israelis would like to retain a share of the ownership of the luxury hotel and also would like to continue to manage it.

Arens, who had two meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid in Paris, told a news conference here that they both wanted to finish the Taba affair “quickly and elegantly.”

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