TEL AVIV (Aug. 21)
Former Premier Menachem Begin agreed to construction of the Sonesta Hotel at Taba on the basis of unchecked assurances, which were made by the initiator of the hotel plan who claimed Israel had full rights to the area, according to former Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche.
Kimche, in an Israel Radio interview last week, said that as far as he knew, Begin did not institute any further investigation into Israeli claims over the two-square-mile beach-front strip.
Claims to that area have been the source of friction between Israel and Egypt since Israel completed returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt April 25, 1982.
An international board of arbitrators is now meeting in Geneva on Taba, and is expected to render a ruling in Egypt’s favor in September.
Two weeks ago, an Israeli delegation returned for consultations after two days of hard bargaining in Cairo over Taba.
In the interview, Kimche charged that Israel had been lax about the status of Taba before building the Sonesta and the nearby Rafi Nelson holiday village, and made no serious effort to ascertain the exact legal status of the area.
He said Sonesta owner Eli Papushado and former military advisor to Begin Efraim Poran had “persuaded” the prime minister in 1982 to authorize the hotel’s construction, basing their decision apparently on the 1906 British-Ottoman agreement delineating the border between then British-controlled Egypt and that section of the Ottoman Empire which became known as Palestine.
Israel is basing its claim in conciliation and arbitration negotiations on the 1906 agreement, while the Egyptians are basing their claim on the pre-1948 border of the British Mandate, even if this differs from the 1906 map.
Papushado was quoted in Maariv as rejecting the Kimche claim, saying his presentation to Begin was based on clear construction permits obtained in 1976 and 1977, long before the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem.