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Egyptian Parliamentarians Want Eilat

Amidst tense relations between Israel and Cairo, Egyptian MPs want to press 'claim' for Eilat, ceded to Israel in 1979 Accords.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 8/26/2011, 1:59 PM

Coast of Eilat
Coast of Eilat
Flash 90

In the wake of recent reports of a joint Israeli-Jordanian plan to link the Red Sea on the Israeli side and the Dead Sea on the Jordanian Side, parliamentarians in Egypt are agitating for the nation's caretaker junta to demand Israel surrender the port-city of Eilat.

Egypt has insisted it has a claim to the city of Eilat since it lost the city to the nascent state of Israel in the wake of the Egyptian army's defeat in Israel's 1948 War of Independence, but after the 1979 Camp David Accords the claim was officially dropped. Or so it seemed.

The reassertion of the claim comes as members of parliament (MPs) in Egypt decry the "Israeli plot to choke the Suez Canal to death."

The control of trade routes has been a principle source of conflict in human history. The 1967 Six-Day War broke out after Egypt closed the straits of Tiran and strangled the trade from Israel's southern port city of Eliat.

In exploring the 'claim,' which has been hotly debated in Egypt's parliament this week, Abed el-Aziz Sayef a-Nasser, an aide to the Egyptian foreign minister, was called as an expert witness. A-Nasser is the director of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's legal department.

"Eilat, or by its former name Umm Rashrash, belongs to the Palestinians," he said on behalf of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

His predecessor, Dr. Nabil el-Arabi, was the head of the Foreign Ministry's legal department and headed the delegation for negotiations at Taba. He also emphatically maintained: "Eilat belongs to the Palestinians."

A-Nasser's response was presumably meant to calm tempers in the rowdy debate in the Egyptian parliament, after dozens of opposition representatives demanded holding negotiations to have Eilat returned to Egyptian sovereignty. They contend that the Egyptian negotiating team to Taba conceded Eilat to Israel 20 years ago "in the framework of the wish to build confidence and to display Egyptian good will in the spirit of the peace agreement."

Two days ago opposition MP Mohammed el-Aadali produced a document from 1906 which states, in the name of the Ottoman sultan: Umm Rashrash belongs to Egypt. In this spot - said the Egyptian experts on topography and geography - Egyptian pilgrims would stop and rest on their way to the holy cities in Saudi Arabia.

El-Aadali made no attempt to explain away the fact that, when Egypt formally drew borders with Israel in 1979, it did cede Eilat to Israel thereby terminating its claim to the city. Israel had given up the Sinai, destroying the city of Yamit. Nor did he explain how a 1906 document from an Ottoman Sultan bears any contemporary relevance in light of the Camp David Accords.

Of note is that amidst the debate between Egyptian MP and Foreign Ministry officials, no mention is made of possible legitimate Israeli sovereignty of Eilat. The debate in Cairo has two camps: the Foreign Ministry which claims that Eilat belongs to the Palestinians, and the opposition MPs who claim that Eilat belongs to Egypt.

The opposition Egyptian MPs threatened on Thursday to relay their demand for an Israeli withdrawal from Eilat to the Arab League to handle.  Despite Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the Arab League's 1948 declaration of war to liquidate the state of Israel remains in force.

Egypt's 2011 revolution has brought a wave of radical anti-Israel sentiment to the country. Egypt has already sought to re-militarize the Sinai, ostensibly to to control the Bedouin, with Israeli approval and the masses are demanding Israel's ambassador in Cairo be ejected from the country - a qualitative first step to the cessation of peaceful relations.

The once touted Camp David Accords seem to have been cast into Cairo's dustbin.

In terms of relations between Jerusalem and Cairo, it is increasingly looking like a return to the strategic reality of October 5, 1973.