TEL AVIV (Jan. 19)
The final Israeli-Egyptian talks on Taba tripped over a gaffe before they even got started Thursday, but the minor dispute was soon resolved and progress was reported at the morning and afternoon sessions.
The delay began when the negotiators from Cairo — who spent Wednesday night at Nueba, on the Sinai coast, and drove to Taba in the morning — had their bus stopped at the Taba border checkpoint.
They were asked to transfer to an Israeli bus for the final 200 yards of their trip, but the Egyptians refused.
The impasse was broken when the United Nations Multinational Force put a bus at their disposal.
The Egyptians arrived at the Avia Sonesta hotel — the future status of which is also under negotiation — escorted by U.N. officers and followed by Israel Foreign Ministry cars.
The issues discussed between the Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. delegations included access for Israeli visitors to the Taba region, police jurisdiction and currency rules.
Taba, a tiny enclave on the Red Sea near the Israeli resort town of Eilat, was awarded to Egypt by an international arbitration panel last year.
DEMONSTRATORS FROM EILAT
The talks were about two hours late getting started, but things went smoothly, undisturbed by raucous demonstrators from Eilat, who insisted that the Sonesta and neighboring Rafi Nelson vacation village, resorts built by Israelis, still belong to Israel.
The demonstrators were in boats offshore while Israeli police kept them away from the hotel.
The head of the Egyptian delegation, Nabil el-Arabi, who is Cairo’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, discussed “free access” for Israelis to Taba with an Israel Radio reporter during the lunch break.
“As far as I am concerned, access will be in accordance with all the usual rules of passage between one country and another,” the Egyptian diplomat said.
He expressed hope that Israeli tourism to Taba will continue and flourish after Egypt takes formal possession.
He indicated that the issue of Israeli access involved the duration of the visit.
Day-trippers, or people who spend one or two nights in Taba, presumably would not require passports, but those remaining a week or longer will need passports and Egyptian visas.
Other matters discussed included car insurance for Israeli drivers entering Taba, traffic violations and the payment of fines, criminal investigations and whether Israeli as well as Egyptian currency will be valid in Taba.
Friday’s meeting is expected to be devoted to the final border marker extending from a sand hill to the sea, which was left out of the arbitration process.
The outgoing owners of the Sonesta hotel are negotiating separately with the Egyptians. Egyptian law requires Egyptian ownership. The Israelis would like to retain a 49 percent interest and continue to manage the hotel.