eilat tourism 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])
The good news is that Egyptian Foreign Minister for Judicial Issues Abdel-Aziz Seif El-Nasr on Sunday told parliament he is against Cairo demanding Eilat as part of Egypt. The bad news is that Nasr said the Red Sea resort is "Palestinian land."
Government sources in Jerusalem characterized Nasr's response to a parliamentary debate on the matter as "twisted." They said Israel would have preferred had he said there was no question Eilat was part of Israel, since this had been settled in the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords and the arbitration that followed regarding Taba.
But, the officials said, Israel would not make a major issue out of Nasr's comments, saying they did not reflect official Egyptian policy. The officials said the issue likely would be raised after Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit arrives here Wednesday for a visit to discuss the situation in the Palestinian Authority.
Nasr on Sunday rejected calls by parliament members and journalists in Cairo for the return of Umm Rashrash (Eilat) to Egypt, saying anyone who brought the subject up for discussion was only trying to create problems. His statement was meant to stem a renewed interest among opposition MPs and the Egyptian press in seeing Umm Rashrash return to Egyptian ownership.
The subject recently gained media attention with the establishment of the People's Front for the Liberation of Umm Rashrash, a group founded by Egyptian MP Tala'at Saddat.
Saddat, a "nationalist" who is currently serving a prison term, announced plans to collect one million military, judiciary and intellectual signatories on a petition demanding the return of Eilat to Egypt. He was indicted on charges of posing a danger to Egyptian security forces, whom he blamed as being responsible for murdering his uncle, former president Anwar Saddat.
Saddat's decision to push for the return of Eilat raised a discussion in the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Committee, during which Nasr said Eilat "is Palestinian and not Egyptian territory."
Nasr clarified Egypt's official stand on the issue, namely that Egypt's international border with Israel was determined in the peace agreement signed between the two states on March 26, 1979, and "the permanent border between the two states is the border established during the British Mandate, which never regarded Eilat as Egyptian territory."
Nasr's statement gave rise to strong criticism among opposition MPs, who demanded the creation of a special parliamentary committee devoted to the subject.
According to Hassan Ahmed Omar, an Egyptian expert on international law and a stern opponent of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, Umm Rashrash was considered Egyptian territory in documents and international maps. Furthermore, he said, Umm Rashrash's Egyptian ownership was stated in an Ottoman decree from 1906 in which the border between Egypt and Palestine was drawn.
According to Omar, the territory of Umm Rashrash was defined as 1,500 square kilometers, and was the same territory conquered by Israel in 1948. In addition, he said, Umm Rashrash was previously called Bet El Hujaj (House of the Pilgrims), since it was a resting place for pilgrims traveling between Egypt and Mecca.
Cairo gave Israel control of Umm Rashrash in return for completing the arbitration agreement on Taba, the Egyptian opposition claimed.
The opposition also said maps and documents in the archives of the Arab League showed that Israel took Umm Rashrash from Egypt in March 1949, a month after signing a cease-fire agreement in Rhodes.
The renewed turmoil over Umm Rashrash is the latest in a series of moves by the Egyptian opposition to censure President Hosni Mubarak for his ties with Israel.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with Mubarak on Sunday, and briefed him on his meeting Saturday night with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Mubarak, according to a Prime Minister's Office statement, said he ascribed "great importance" to the meeting. The two men agreed to meet soon, the statement said, but no date was given.
Olmert last met with Mubarak in June in Sharm e-Sheikh.