TEL AVIV (Mar. 22)
The mayor of Eilat, Rafi Hochman, managed over the weekend to put through a direct telephone call to his counterpart in the neighboring Jordanian town of Aqaba, Ibrahim Abul-Izz.
But he could not get a direct reply from Abul-Izz to his invitation to attend an international mayors conference in Eilat next month.
Hochman told Israel Radio that the Arab mayor seemed surprised by the Saturday telephone call from Israel, which was a follow-up to a written invitation transmitted by fax machine.
He tried to beg off the conversation saying he could not speak English. But Hochman obliged by putting on an Arabic-speaking associate.
Abul-Izz then confirmed that he had received the faxed invitation but was not sure he could attend. Apparently he needs permission from the government in Amman.
If the Jordanian mayor does go to Eilat, which is theoretically within walking distance, he would find plenty of Arabic-speaking company. Ten mayors of Egyptian cities will be among the 400 mayors from 14 countries attending.
The conference will discuss the environmental problems affecting coastal cities and towns. It is being held in advance of a wider conference on the subject in Tokyo this May.
That conference was planned in the framework of the multinational phase of the Middle East peace talks, which convened in Moscow in January to discuss regional issues.
Hochman said he told the Jordanian: “We’ll probably meet anyway in Tokyo later on, so why not come here now to begin the talks?”
Hochman told Israel Radio that direct talks were in fact being held between municipal officials of Eilat and Aqaba on environmental and other local problems. But he declined to say how the contacts were maintained.
Although Eilat and Aqaba are located virtually side by side at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the telephone call between them had to travel via satellite. It was put through by Solan Communications, an Israeli company based in London which handles telephone communications between Israel and the Arab states with which it has no telephone or postal contact.
The invitation to Aqaba’s mayor was faxed from the Taba Hilton hotel located on Egyptian territory ceded by Israel in 1989 on the basis of international arbitration of a border dispute.