JERUSALEM (Aug. 8)
Israeli and Egyptian officials began talks Monday in Cairo to try to resolve by compromise the disputed territory of Taba.
The fate of Taba, the tiny beachfront strip on the Red Sea south of Eilat, is now in the hands of both an international arbitration panel in Geneva and the Israeli-Egyptian parties themselves.
Decision-making on the land, which includes an Israeli luxury hotel and a resort village, can be reached by either a process of arbitration, as is occurring in Geneva, or by compromise between the two parties.
It is believed that international arbitration will result in a gain for Egypt and a major loss for Israel, including criticism of Israel for its behavior in the dispute. The team of Israeli negotiators is trying to forestall the anticipated finding in Egypt’s favor. That decision is due in September.
Egypt has offered Israel free access to the resort properties it developed, including ownership of the Sonesta Hotel, should Egypt be granted the territory. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has rebuffed that offer.
Israel’s prospects in the Geneva negotiations look bad, because, according to reports here, the arbitrators will rule that the 1922 border established by the British Mandate is the legal international border between Israel and Egypt. This border was in effect until the 1967 Six-Day War.
According to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, inked in March 1979, Israel must withdraw to the international border.
Shortly after the treaty was signed, the Israeli government authorized the building of the Sonesta Hotel, which turned the insignificant area of about two square miles into a disputed territory and a source of friction between the two countries.
The Israeli negotiating team is headed by Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The team was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid.
On Sunday, Professor Shimon Shamir, Israel’s new ambassador to Cairo, met with Meguid to try to advance an understanding on the thorny issue.
The Egyptian daily Al-Gumhuriya reported that Egypt has already made preparations to turn Taba into its own resort town, once the area is returned to Egyptian sovereignty.