It will be remembered that 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.
Yet few are aware that Egypt has staked a claim to the city of Eilat, ever since it lost Eilat to the nascent state of Israel in the wake of the Egyptian army’s defeat in the 1948 war, followed by the expulsion of the Egyptians from this southern port city on the Red Sea.
Now, in the wake of recent reports about plans to dig a canal linking the Red Sea on the Israeli side and the Dead Sea on its Jordanian side, a fiery argument broke out in Egypts parliament, with the members of parliament (MPs) speaking out against the “Israeli plot to choke the Suez Canal to death.”
In the course of the debate, which has been going on in parliament for the last two days, 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, representing the opinion 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 declared: “Eilat belongs to the Palestinians.”
A-Nasser’s response was 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. Opposition MPs recruited several legal experts, international law lecturers and experts on geography and topography who showed documents and opinions that Eilat is territory that belongs to Egypt and was captured in 1949 by Israel. 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.”
This was not the end of the matter. An Egyptian international law expert presented an intermediate position in parliament: “Eilat belongs formally to Egypt and administratively to the Palestinians.”
In the debate in parliament two days ago, an opposition MP, Mohammed el-Aadali, whipped out 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.
Another document brings testimony relating to 350 Egyptian police who were in Umm Rashrash just before it was captured in March 1949 and who were killed in battles with IDF soldiers.
Significantly, in the debate among the Egyptian MPs, the experts and the Foreign Ministry officials, no mention is made of possible legitimate Israeli sovereignty of Eilat. The debate in Cairo is between two camps: the Egyptian 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. While Egypt was the kingpin of the Arab League from 1948 until 1977, the current dominant power in the Arab League is Saudi Arabia, which remains in a consistent state of war with the Jewish State until the present day. To that end, Saudi Arabia finances all Islamic terror groups that fight Israel, and continues to forbid any Jew from stepping on the soil of the Saudi kingdom.
©The Bulletin 2006