Taba (is a small Egyptian town near the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is the location of Egypt's busiest border crossing with neighboring Israel. Little more than a bus depot and a luxury hotel (complete with casino), Taba is a frequent vacation spot for Egyptians and tourists, especially those from Israel on their way to other destinations in Egypt or as a weekend getaway. It is the northernmost resort of Egypt's Red Sea Riviera.


Taba was a small Bedouin village of approx. 1 sq. km on the beach of the Gulf of Aqaba. It included a small hill which overlooks the Israeli town of Elat, making it of strategic importance to Israel. During the Suez Crisis in 1956 it was briefly occupied but returned to Egypt when Israel withdrew in 1957. Israel reoccupied the Sinai Peninsula after the Six-Day War in 1967, and subsequently a 400-room hotel was built in Taba. Following the 1973 Yom-Kippur War, when Egypt and Israel were negotiating the exact position of the border in preparation for the 1979 peace treaty, Israel claimed that Taba had been on the Ottoman side of a border agreed between the Ottomans and British Egypt in 1906 and had, therefore, been in error in its two previous agreements. Although most of Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1982, Taba was the last portion to be returned. After a long dispute, the issue was submitted to an international commission composed of one Israeli, one Egyptian, and three outsiders. In 1988, the commission ruled in Egypt's favor, and Israel returned Taba to Egypt in 1989.


As part of this subsequent agreement, travelers are permitted to cross from Israel at the Eilat - Taba border crossing, and visit the "Aqaba Coast Area of Sinai", (stretching from Taba down to Sharm el Sheikh, and including Nuweiba, St Catherine and Dahab), visa-free for up to 14 days, making Taba a popular tourist destination. The resort community of Taba Heights is located some 20 km (12 mi) south of Taba. It features several large hotels, including The Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Sofitel and Intercontinental. It is also a significant diving area where many people come to either free dive, scuba dive or learn to dive via the many PADI courses on offer. Other recreation facilities include a new desert style golf course.


The Dispute:


The dispute over Taba concerned the location of 14 border markers demarcating the boundary between Israel and Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. It was left-over from the 1979 treaty under which Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai. At stake were some few hundred square metres of beachfront, but also a large and expensive resort complex under Israeli ownership.


Following the treaty, the two parties only agreed to refer the dispute to a five-person tribunal in 1986, having failed to resolve the issues at stake through negotiation. The tribunal was restricted in its scope to deciding on either the position put forward by the Egyptian side, or that of the Israelis - but not to decide on new positions for the boundary markers. The Treaty's starting point was the treaty provision which stipulated that "the permanent boundary between Egypt and Israel is the recognized international boundary between Egypt and the former mandated territory of Palestine," and in arriving at its decision heavily relied on the location of boundary pillars during the mandate period - i.e., between 1923 and 1948.


Israel argued that the boundary should be construed as that which had been established in an agreement between Egypt and Turkey in 1906, and pursuant to which pillars had been erected at intervisible points between Egyptian and Ottoman territory. The tribunal members however agreed that the relevant pillar locations were of those that had been in existence at the time of the mandate.


The most critical pillar location was that of the final pillar at Ras Taba, and both parties submitted documentary evidence which they believed would support their claim regarding its historical location. The tribunal ultimately gave weight to photographic evidence for the existence of a pillar on the Taba shoreline which had been removed prior to 1970 in an Israeli land-grab scheme.


For nine of the remaining pillars, the tribunal applied a straightforward methodology. It drew a straight-line connecting the adjacent agreed pillars, and decided in favour of each pillar nearest to the line - and in so doing awarded five pillars to Egypt, and four to Israel. Four other pillars were awarded to Egypt.


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