TEL AVIV (Jan. 24)
The Israeli-Egyptian talks over Taba were scheduled to resume Tuesday night, after President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt broke an impasse that threatened to derail them.
He ordered the Egyptian negotiating team to return to the table and adhere to the original agenda. He also instructed the negotiators to strive for an agreement satisfactory to both sides.
The talks on Taba are intended to resolve issues not settled by the arbitration process that awarded the tiny beach enclave to Egypt last year.
They seemed to totter on the brink Friday, when the Egyptians suddenly demanded a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from Taba.
Nabil el-Arabi, head of the Egyptian team, angrily refused to continue the discussions until the timetable was in hand.
Mubarak’s intervention over the weekend changed the mood. The Egyptians, for example, agreed to spend the night at the Israeli-owned Avia Sonesta Hotel in Taba, where the talks are being held, instead of returning to Nueba in Sinai, as they insisted on doing after the talks opened last week.
The United States is present in Taba as an observer. Its role, however, seems to be to shepherd the two sides toward agreement.
At the Americans’ urging, the Israeli and Egyptian negotiators are expected to divide Wednesday morning into four or six subcommittees to deal concurrently with different issues.
They include future access to Taba for Israeli tourists, customs inspection, policing, currency exchange and the timetable for Israel’s withdrawal.
U.S. WORKING BEHIND SCENES
The two sides must also agree on the final 185 yards of border separating Taba from Israel, an issue the arbitration process did not settle.
Separate talks are under way over the future of the Avia Sonesta and the adjacent Rafi Nelson Vacation Village, two Israeli-built resorts that are Taba’s only tangible assets.
Egyptian law requires Egyptian ownership. But it does not prevent Israelis from retaining a 49 percent interest in the hotel.
An Israeli political-financial team is reported to be working on figures representing the fair market value of the two properties and anticipated profits.
The Sonesta’s owner, Eli Paposhado, is in Cairo, reportedly close to a deal for joint ownership of the hotel with an Egyptian tourist organization. The present Israeli personnel would continue to operate it.
Meanwhile, another snag in the talks seems to have been averted through the good offices of the U.S. State Department’s legal adviser, Abraham Sofaer.
The matter involves compensation to the families of six Israeli tourists killed in October 1985 by a berserk Egyptian border policeman at Ras Burka, in Sinai.
Some Israeli hard-liners insisted that a final settlement of the Taba dispute be made conditional on a satisfactory offer of compensation.
The Cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected linkage of the two issues. But Israeli officials have warned that meager compensation would be construed as an insult to the bereaved families.
The Egyptians will announce their offer next Sunday. Sofaer, who has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Cairo, told Foreign Minister Moshe Arens that on the basis of his talks with the Egyptians, there is good reason to believe the Israelis will not be disappointed by their offer.