Since the war of October 1973, Egypt’s President Sadat has increasingly thrown in his lot with the United States. His westward reorientation of Egyptian policy seems to have been supported and, indeed, anticipated by the greater part of articulate Egyptian opinion.

This was not of course unanimous. There were some elements that opposed or at least criticized the change. One was the comparatively small group of active and militant leftists. Another, somewhat larger, consisted of those who, without necessarily being either pro-Russian or anti-Western, nevertheless felt that it was a mistake for the government of Egypt to limit its options and commit itself entirely to one side, thereby depriving itself of the freedom of maneuver which had been used with such skill—and, some might say, with such disastrous results—by the late President Nasser. Some opposed the new policy because of commitment to the Arab cause; others, again, because of a profound mistrust of the ultimate intentions of Israel.

On the whole, however, these were all minority views. Dissatisfaction with the Russians was widespread, and Sadat’s turn to the West had already proved its value in the later stages of the October war and in the diplomatic aftermath. Most Egyptians were therefore willing to support it.

Since then it is mainly because of the recognition of his search for peace that Sadat has been able to enjoy to an increasing extent the respect and support of his people. Even when opposition groups taking advantage of their new-found freedom sought to challenge his leadership, they directed their main attack against his economic and other domestic policies, not against his pursuit of peace. (The burden of leftist criticism, for example, was not that the peace policy was misguided or even unsuccessful, but that it would not solve Egypt’s economic problems.) The Egyptian mood has for some time been very clear, and there is little doubt that in seeking a settlement with Israel, Sadat was not leading but following the Egyptian people and giving expression to a desire which had existed and had been growing in strength for a long time. To this policy, Sadat himself was a comparatively late convert. He has, however, shown himself to be genuinely aware of the needs and wishes of his people and of the fact that these needs and wishes coincide.

Several factors and considerations might have impelled Sadat to pursue such a policy. One was the danger of a stalemate, which would almost certainly lead sooner or later to a resumption of hostilities and to new military dangers. It is now commonly claimed in Egypt, and to a lesser extent in other Arab countries, that the war of October 1973 was an Egyptian victory. It was certainly a military victory in its beginnings and a political victory in its results, and the Egyptians are anxious not to endanger either the satisfactions of the one or the benefits of the other. There is also a further and perhaps in the long run more important consideration—a growing awareness of the extremely fragile nature of the social, economic, and political order in most Arab countries. These countries have gone through great and convulsive social changes, and the existing order in virtually all of them is precarious and could easily be overthrown. In this respect, the civil war in Lebanon has served as a terrible warning.

Another obvious reason is war weariness—the exhaustion of the country after thirty years’ drain of blood and treasure. The increase in population on the one hand and the decay and sometimes the collapse of public services and amenities on the other have made more and more Egyptians acutely aware of the strains which the long-drawn-out war has imposed on them and of the price which they have paid and are continuing to pay for it. There was a time when in Egypt as in all Arab countries it would have been difficult or impossible to argue for an end to the struggle. Today the Egyptians need to be persuaded to continue the struggle—and the arguments are losing their force.

Yet another reason behind the search for peace is fear of the Russians. The Egyptians have already had their taste of Russian involvement in their own affairs and of the methods and purposes of Soviet policies. I recall, not long after the October war, chatting with an Egyptian friend in Cairo and remarking to him that one of the important results of the war was to reveal to both sides, the Israelis and the Egyptians, the degree of their dependence on their superpower patrons. He agreed, and remarked that in this respect the Israelis were much better placed than the Egyptians. “Why?” I asked. “To be dependent on the United States,” he said, “is something one can live with; but to be dependent on the Russians, that is real trouble.”

In this remark he was expressing a point of view which had become increasingly current in Egypt at the time. There was a growing awareness that a relationship of dependence on the Soviet Union was uncomfortable and dangerous, while a relationship of dependence on the United States, though perhaps awkward in some respects, was not entirely disagreeable. There was also a dawning awareness that it was the United States and not the Soviet Union which possessed at least some measure of ability to influence the course of events in the Middle East.

More recently, there have been alarming signs of a Russian return. Though their influence in Egypt has been greatly reduced and is now limited to some supply of spare parts for weaponry, the Soviets appear to be approaching again from the west—where, against all predictions, they succeeded in establishing themselves in Qaddafi’s Libya—and, even more alarmingly, from the south, where the growing Russian presence in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere constitutes a new and terrifying threat. The government of the Sudan is friendly to Egypt, but is not one of the more secure regimes of the Arab world. It is opposed by a strong Communist opposition within the country as well as by gathering forces beyond its southern borders. A coup in the Sudan—always a possibility—would leave Egypt threatened from the south and the west as well as from the east.

It has also become clear that the Russians have no great interest in peace in the Middle East. Indeed, the Soviet Union is the only major power with a vested interest in the continuance of conflict. If Egypt, either alone or with other Arab states, is to continue a policy of unremitting hostility and war against Israel, there is only one great power on which it can count for help. That one power is the Soviet Union, and this fact alone is a strong argument, in the eyes of many Egyptians, against the pursuit of such a policy.

Another factor of considerable importance to the government and, perhaps still more, to the people of Egypt is disillusionment with Arabism. As far back as 1948, when King Farouk decided to send the Egyptian army into Palestine, there were divided opinions in Egypt on the wisdom of this act. Ismail Sidqi Pasha, a prominent Egyptian statesman of the time, urged the King not to get into a quarrel which was not Egypt’s, and warned him of the long and dangerous involvement which would follow. Sidqi’s advice was rejected, and he was execrated and denounced as an imperialist stooge, a Zionist agent, and a traitor. He died in 1950, a sick and broken man. Today, more than one voice is heard in Egypt recalling the memory of Ismail Sidqi and regretting that his advice, which might have saved Egypt from a long, useless, and exhausting struggle, was not followed. Egyptians are acutely aware that it is they who have borne the main brunt of the struggle with Israel, fighting in all the wars and paying an exorbitant bill in lives and resources. Egyptian leaders willingly played this role and the Egyptian people accepted the necessary sacrifices for almost three decades. Both leaders and people are tired of it now, and have begun to compare their own contribution with the relative inactivity and, as they see it, the niggardly financial support of their Arab brothers. Arabs from other countries often say that during those three decades the Egyptians were not sacrificing themselves for the Palestinians or for any other Arabs, but were acting in Egyptian interests, and did so by their own choice. If that is true, they choose to stop doing so now.



In seeking peace, Sadat counted very heavily on the United States. From time to time he has remarked that the United States holds 99 per cent of the cards. At the time of the Israeli election in May 1977, when Begin and a rather hawkish coalition took power in Israel, Sadat was asked whether he did not think that this would change matters for the worse. His comment was that it did not greatly matter who won the elections in Israel since it was the United States that would make the ultimate decision.

From the moment when American governments sought to play a peacemaking role in the Middle Eastern conflict, it was clear that there were three possible ways in which this might be done. The first was to pressure the Arab governments to accept a pro-Israel solution; the second to pressure the Israelis to accept a pro-Arab solution; the third to devise or join with others in devising some suitable compromise and work for its acceptance by both sides.

The first of these three—to pressure the Arabs to accept a pro-Israel solution—has, so far as I am aware, never been considered. The second, to pressure Israel to accept a pro-Arab solution, has been widely discussed, both negatively and positively, and seems to have been the expectation not only of President Sadat but also of King Khalid of Saudi Arabia and other moderate—meaning pro-Western—Arab governments.

Such an expectation was not entirely unreasonable in itself. It had been encouraged by some American and European voices, ranging from those at one end who wanted to “save Israel in spite of herself” by forcing the Israelis to make concessions to the Arabs, to those at the other end who quite frankly, in the name of commercial or national expediency (the two are often confused), advocated throwing Israel to the wolves after first carving it into convenient-sized morsels and providing the wolves with new dentures for easier mastication.

These hopes were encouraged, rather than diminished, by the Likud victory in the Israeli election in May 1977. It was widely assumed, and indeed stated at the time in some Egyptian and other circles, that, with the replacement of the comparatively benign Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres by the ogreish Menachem Begin, a chasm would open, not only between Israel and American public opinion but even between Israel and the American Jews. This, it was thought, would make it possible to isolate Israel from its main source of support and thereby achieve a solution more favorable to Arab interests.

Given recent trends and pronouncements, this was not in itself an unreasonable expectation, and it seems to have been held by some Arab governments. But Sadat, more acute than other Arab leaders, realized that an imposed pro-Arab solution was not, at least at that juncture, possible. This became dramatically clear at the beginning of October when the governments of the Soviet Union and the United States issued a joint declaration which looked to some like a blueprint for such an imposed solution—and was followed almost immediately by the virtual abandonment of its main points by the United States government. The crisis revealed that support for Israel among the American people and political elite went far beyond the limits of the Jewish community and that the United States government either would not or, if it would, could not impose a solution of the kind that was anticipated, not even on the unpopular Begin.1

This left a third possibility, a negotiated compromise. Such, indeed, appears to be the policy of the United States government. President Carter early in his administration perceived and declared that a compromise must rest on two principles—Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and Arab willingness to recognize Israel and enter into normal peaceful relations with it. The first of these two points has long been a commonplace in American pronouncements on the subject. The recognition of the second by President Carter was an important innovation and brought a peaceful solution perceptibly nearer. Not so long ago when Yitzhak Rabin, as Israel’s Prime Minister, proposed normal relations as an objective, he was accused of trying to sabotage the peacemaking process by making unreasonable demands which the Arabs could not possibly accept. President Carter has not only accepted the need for normal relations, but has also recognized that the two principles, withdrawal and normalization, are inextricably linked.

There were, however, other aspects to Washington’s mediation which seem to have been less helpful. One was the desire, which found expression in the October declaration, to involve the Russians in the process of negotiation and settlement. This seems to have caused some alarm to President Sadat. It was bad enough to have the Russians coming at him from Libya and Ethiopia. The joint declaration and the line of policy which it represented threatened him with the prospect of the Russians coming at him from Washington and Geneva too. This was not a pleasing prospect—and the more disturbing in that it disclosed on the part of those who had engineered it a somewhat disquieting lack of contact with political realities in the Middle East. Much the same may be said of Washington’s earlier insistence on a pan-Arab approach to the negotiations. This meant achieving nothing, since it was only on nothing that all parties could agree. The involvement of the Arab extremists in the negotiations had already made things difficult, if not impossible. Bringing in the Russians finally and conclusively led the road to Geneva into a blind alley.

It was no doubt the perception of this brutal fact which sent Sadat on his epoch-making journey. He had banked very heavily on American ability to solve the problem, whether by imposing a pro-Arab solution on Israel or by leading both sides toward a negotiated compromise. When he saw that the first was politically impossible and that the second had reached a dead end, he decided to respond to the feelers which had meanwhile been put out by Begin. The process began with indirect exchanges in Bucharest, continued with secret preparatory talks between Dayan and a high Egyptian official, and became public with Sadat’s dramatic offer to go to Jerusalem.



The offer to visit the enemy capital was not in itself new. Golda Meir had made such offers on earlier occasions, as had other Israeli Prime Ministers. There were, however, two important new elements this time. One is that the offer came from the Arab and not the Israeli side; the other is that it was accepted.

President Sadat’s journey was a courageous, imaginative, and also an astute political act, and its results are already impressive. That it was possible at all is due in no small measure to the preparatory work of the previous and present U.S. administrations. Curiously enough, the immediate American reaction to the Sadat proposal was somewhat negative, rather suggestive of a frustrated matchmaker whose prospective clients start dating. Some of the objections which were raised at the time seem a bit strange. One was that Sadat’s action might block the road to Geneva, the implication being that Geneva was so important an objective in itself that even peace must not be allowed to interfere with it.

Another objection was that Sadat’s action would disrupt Arab unity. A more practical formulation of this objection was that it was the unity not of the Arabs as a whole but of the moderate pro-Western Arab states that was at issue. If these were fragmented, it was argued, and Egypt were isolated, nothing could be done and a dangerous situation would arise. But to speak of isolating Egypt within the Arab world, still more within the pro-Western Arab bloc, is reminiscent of the famous headline which once appeared in the Times of London in the 19th century: “Fog in Channel, Continent Isolated.” Egypt has approximately one-third of the population and two-thirds of the skills of the Arab world. From Morocco to the Gulf, Egyptian teachers, specialists, and technicians of every kind render indispensable services. Egypt is the core and reservoir of the Arab world, and to speak of Egyptian isolation within it is an absurdity.

The parameters of unity and disunity among the Arab states are a complex and difficult problem, but it is and has for long been clear that there can be no progress toward peace on the basis of a united Arab front, even if such could ever be constituted. Since the days when the British Mandatory government first brought the Arab states into the affairs of the Palestine Mandate at the St. James’s Palace Conferences, inter-Arab agreement has only been possible on maximum demands. The only moves toward peace during the last thirty years have been on the basis of separate agreements, and each time it was the Egyptians who set the pattern. Egypt decided, others followed. This was true of the Rhodes Armistice Agreements of 1949 and of the disengagement agreements of 1974. It could still be true again.

Eventually, the United States government seems to have overcome its alarm at the possible threats to Arab unity or to Soviet collaboration offered by the Egyptian peace policy; it has given Sadat its full support, thereby enabling him to proceed within a wider context and, incidentally, making it more difficult for him to proceed—should he wish it—alone.

Some of Sadat’s Arab critics, unwilling to come out openly against the quest for peace as such, concentrated their criticism on his dramatic gesture in going to Jerusalem and talking to the Knesset. If, they argued, he had reached a point where he felt it necessary to talk to the Israeli Prime Minister face to face, he could have done so quietly and on neutral ground. Why, they asked, did he offer the Israelis this dramatic public gesture, which must obviously have cost him a great deal within the Arab constituency?

We can only speculate as to the reasons for Sadat’s action. The most probable is his realization that only by something public and dramatic could he hope to overcome the deep Israeli distrust of him and of his regime. As he himself remarked with some truth, it was the removal of the psychological barrier that was the most urgent need. Sadat was no doubt right in assuming that only in this way could he hope to allay thirty years of mistrust and hostility.2



The reaction of the Arab states varied considerably. Some came out in immediate support; among them was the Sudan, a country of particular importance to Egypt. Others, predictably, denounced the initiative; these included South Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Algeria, all at a safe distance from the battlefields. Syria adopted a somewhat ambiguous stance, opposing the Sadat policy but not entirely rallying to the rejectionist bloc. Clearly, the Syrians dislike Sadat’s approach but realize that they will have to follow his example if he succeeds. The PLO, after some initial hesitation, eventually obeyed its own inner logic and came out strongly against the initiative. The Jordanians, whose role is of crucial importance and may well determine the success or failure of the enterprise, have remained cautious. King Hussein has not opposed the initiative, but he is unlikely to join the negotiations until there is some stronger assurance that they will succeed and some clearer indication of his own part in them.

Particularly interesting is the reaction of the Saudis, who publicly have been neither for nor against the initiative and privately have been quoted as both opposing and supporting it. The Saudis were undoubtedly angry at not having been consulted by Sadat before he made his journey to Jerusalem. As one of them remarked, “It is usual to consult your banker before starting on a new enterprise.” Sadat, however, was probably right in not consulting them. If he was determined to go on his journey, there was indeed no other way. To consult the Saudis in advance would in effect have meant asking their permission—and they would almost certainly have refused it. To act without consulting them was no doubt an offense in their eyes, but it was a much smaller offense than it would have been to consult them, receive a negative answer, and then proceed all the same.

There may perhaps be another reason for Saudi pique. In recent years Egypt has, intentionally or otherwise, withdrawn from the role of Arab leadership exercised by the late President Nasser. This left a vacancy for which there were several candidates but which no Arab state was strong enough to fill. The Saudis, thanks to their great wealth, their comparatively peaceful home front, their financial leverage with the Fatah, and their excellent relations with Washington, had gradually been assuming a role of Arab leadership and had in many respects been accepted, particularly in the West, as the spokesmen of the Arab world. Paradoxically, Sadat’s very rejection of a pan-Arab approach amounted to a reassertion of Egyptian initiative and, therefore, primacy in the Arab world. The Saudis were understandably irritated and their subsequent policies toward Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians may perhaps be better understood in this light.

In spite of all these considerations, the Saudis have at least supported Sadat’s policy to the extent of not publicly opposing it. One reason, no doubt, is that they cannot risk the overthrow of Sadat’s regime and the possible emergence of a radical regime in his place. One Qaddafi is bad enough. A second Qaddafi in the Nile Valley would represent a mortal threat to the Saudi regime. Similar considerations may explain a certain lack of enthusiasm in Egypt as well as in several other Arab countries for the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank.



Sadat went to Jerusalem and back, and after the speeches and the crowds and the euphoria came a series of disappointments—to both sides. Many Egyptians seem to have genuinely expected that once they had made the gesture of recognizing Israel—not merely recognizing but even welcoming Israel to the Middle East, to quote Sadat’s speech to the Knesset—the rest would be comparatively easy and a peace settlement could follow rapidly and without complications. Looking back now, such an expectation may seem naive and simplistic, but is quite excusable. The Israelis, their spokesmen, and their friends have after all been insisting for the last thirty years that the root of the problem is not territory but the total Arab refusal to recognize and accept Israel or even talk to Israelis. It was therefore not unreasonable for Sadat to feel that once he was willing to change this, to recognize and accept Israel, to enter into a dialogue, even to go to Jerusalem and address the Israeli parliament, all the rest should be simple.

It may even be that this hypothesis is a true one; unfortunately, it has not yet been tested. All that Sadat could offer the Israelis was the recognition and acceptance of Egypt, and although, in the long run, these will probably prove decisive, in the short run they are not sufficient. There are still other Arab states and organizations which remain wedded to the earlier view that Israel’s very existence is an offense and that only its excision can bring peace to the Middle East.

The Egyptians were also very disappointed by Israeli actions on Sinai settlements which were established and then extended on Egyptian territory for no reason that made sense to them. This, moreover, was done in a public and provocative way just at the moment when delicate negotiations were in progress. The televised bulldozers at Yamit and the hourly announcements of new settlements from the Israeli radio came as a deep shock to the Egyptians. The explanations which were forthcoming, based, in the main, on Israeli domestic politics, convinced few and satisfied none. It would be a bitter irony if the Egyptians, trying to contract out of the conflict through their rejection of Arab nationalism, were to be swept back in again on a wave of outraged Egyptian patriotism. Sinai, after all, is not an Arab question; it is an Egyptian question.

The Israelis, too, had their disappointments. When Sadat arrived in Israel he was given a quite extraordinarily emotional and enthusiastic welcome, with thousands of Israelis waving Egyptian flags, most of them homemade since Egyptian flags are not readily available in Israel; he was greeted by a full turnout of the government, opposition, and other notables, and escorted all the way from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem. When, by contrast, Begin and his staff went to Ismailia, they were driven through bare and empty streets with no flags but only the signs still standing, which acclaimed Sadat as the conqueror of the Canal and the victor of Suez.

The reasons for this disparity are not difficult to find. The situation is very different in the two countries, and the two have different problems with which to contend. Nevertheless, the contrast between the two receptions as shown on television had a somewhat dampening effect. This was, however, in part alleviated by the heartwarming stories which Israelis read in their newspapers of the welcome accorded to Israeli journalists and delegates in Egypt. It was noted that an enthusiastic welcome came spontaneously from the people, while only the official welcome was cautious and restrained. Still, the explanation which was given—security—was not entirely convincing. There are, after all, more Palestinians in Jerusalem than in Ismailia. Probably the real reason for the difference is that the Egyptians still have to worry about the effects of their actions on the Arabs. However much they may wish to abandon pan-Arabism as a foreign policy, they nevertheless retain important links, financial and other, with the countries of the Arab world.



A second Israeli disappointment was in the treatment of the peace initiative by the media in the two countries. The Israeli press is not controlled and is, one might add, uncontrollable. Nevertheless, there was not a single line in any Israeli newspaper that was lacking in respect or courtesy to the President of Egypt or to the Egyptian nation. The Egyptian press is no longer censored as it was in Nasser’s day, but is still open to official guidance.3 Yet, two days after the Ismailia conference, when negotiations were still proceeding, some Egyptian newspapers began to publish articles, scurrilous in content and violent in language, attacking not only the Israelis and Zionism, which might have been accepted philosophically, but even the Jewish people and the Jewish religion from now right back into antiquity. (One such article presented the biblical story of the Exodus as an Egyptian nationalist movement expelling Jewish plutocrats who, in accordance with the usual habits of the Tribe, had dominated and exploited the Egyptian economy.)

One of the most violent of these writers, Anis Mansur, is a leading Egyptian journalist who stands to Sadat in much the same relationship as Mohamed Hassanein Heikal did to Nasser. He is the editor of the weekly magazine October, which is Sadat’s favorite platform, and the author of a daily column on the back page of Al Ahram, and is generally regarded as Sadat’s personal spokesman. Anis Mansur is a prolific writer, and the Jews have long been one of his favorite subjects (others are ghosts and visitors from outer space). His main source of information on Jews appears to be the Nazi literature of the 1930’s. Some of his articles employ such themes as the Jewish plot to rule the world, the use of Gentile children’s blood for Jewish ritual ceremonies, and other familiar anti-Semitic libels. All this quite obviously touches a very sensitive nerve in Israel. When people in Israel asked which is the voice of Egypt, Sadat or Anis Mansur, there were some who gave the somewhat bleak answer that Anis Mansur is the voice of Sadat.

Sadat’s visit did much to demolish the psychological barrier which had so long existed between Egyptians and Israelis. Writers of anti-Semitic articles in the press were doing much to raise it again. Some observers have indeed thought that the tone and content of Egyptian press attacks on Israel, Begin, Zionists, Jews, and Judaism were intelligible only on the assumption that they represented a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace process. Though this would certainly not be the wish or intention of the majority of Egyptian media men, such an explanation is not in itself absurd. The forces opposed to the peace process dispose of immense financial resources and have acquired great skill in their deployment. More recently, the government of Egypt has shown some awareness of the damaging effect of this kind of scurrility and has taken some steps to restrain it. While a certain level of invective and abuse is common in Middle Eastern journalism and politics, Israelis, and indeed Jews in general, find it difficult to trust interlocutors who call their Prime Minister a Shylock and cite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

A third development which not only caused disappointment in Israel but had the rather more serious effect of hardening Begin’s position was the line put out from Cairo and echoed elsewhere and summed up in the formula, “I gave him everything, he gave me nothing.” Sadat obviously really sees the issue in these terms. Clearly he felt that by going to Jerusalem and giving Israel recognition and acceptance, something which no Arab ruler or politician had been willing even to consider, he had made a major concession for which he felt he had received nothing comparable in return.

The Israelis saw this precisely the other way ’round. What they saw Sadat as giving them was words—beautiful and wonderful words which they had been waiting for thirty years to hear, but still just words and, like other words, reversible. They were, furthermore, accompanied by other, less agreeable words, and followed by some very disagreeable ones.

Concerning the importance of Sadat’s recognition of Israel, the view of the present Israeli government is somewhat different from that of its predecessors. Governments of the Labor Alignment had for long insisted very strongly on recognition as the major objective. Begin, publicly at least, plays down the significance of this recognition, which he sees merely as a long overdue acceptance of the obvious. As Begin presents the situation, Sadat gave him only words, in return for which he was expected to capitulate to all of Sadat’s demands.



In fact, both sides have made substantial concessions for which neither is willing to give the other credit. Sadat’s position has been modified in two respects—first in regard to what he is demanding, second in regard to what he is offering in return. On the first of these the change has been more limited. When Sadat addressed the Knesset his demands were precisely the same as those which had been put forward by Egypt and other Arab states for some time past—Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories acquired in 1967 and the recognition of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinians,” a term at that time generally understood to mean the establishment of a Palestinian state ruled by the PLO. Both of these demands went beyond the declaration of principles embodied in Resolution 242, which speaks of withdrawal from territories, but not necessarily all of them, and makes no political reference to the Palestinians. On the question of total Israeli withdrawal, Sadat has made no compromise on the ultimate objective but has been willing to consider a staged withdrawal with various interim arrangements. On the second point, the change has been more substantial. Egypt has in effect withdrawn the recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestine people conceded at the 1974 Arab summit conference in Rabat, and has until recently appeared to have abandoned the idea of a separate Palestinian state. This would mean, in practice, the acceptance of a Jordanian solution.

Much more dramatic is the change in what Sadat is offering in return. He began by offering virtually nothing, then vague suggestions of possible better relations in an undefined future, then post-dated half-promises, and then, finally, the breakthrough to full recognition and real peace. This, too, goes beyond the terms of Resolution 242, and represents a major change of policy, a radical departure from the positions previously held by Egypt and still regarded as axiomatic in most of the Arab world. Within the context of Arab politics this is indeed a concession of major dimensions.

But if Arab concessions must be seen within the context of Arab politics, so must Israeli concessions be seen within the context of Israeli politics, and in this sense the Israelis conceded something very substantial indeed, namely the Sinai peninsula.4 At the very first session of the meeting in Ismailia, if not earlier, Begin told Sadat that he recognized Sinai as Egyptian and made no territorial claims. In other words, Begin accepted the old international frontier.

From the Egyptians’ point of view, this is no concession at all but merely giving them back what is their own. The Israelis, on the other hand, argue that after a war, changes in the frontier are the rule rather than the exception. They further argue that after a series of wars in which the issue was the survival of Israel and the military results were overwhelmingly in their favor, it would not be abnormal to have some strategic modification of the frontier. In fact, they asked for none. The Labor Alignment government had always insisted on retaining Sharm el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. By renouncing all Israeli territorial claims on Egypt up to the previous international line, Begin incurred much criticism in his own camp, not only from the oppostion which, on this point, took a more hawkish position than the government, but also from members of his own party. Some of his critics argued that he should not have made such a concession at all but should have insisted on retaining sovereignty over strategic air and military bases as well as settlements. Others, perhaps more important, agreed that such a statement might have been made, but felt that it should have come at the end and not at the beginning of negotiations. It was shortly after this that an election was held within the Likud for a vacancy in the Cabinet. Begin’s nominee was opposed by a more hawkish candidate who, thus, directly challenged Begin’s authority in his own party and coalition. Begin’s candidate won the election but by an alarmingly narrow margin.

It was in this atmosphere that the two major problems—the settlements in Sinai and the declaration of principles regarding the Palestinians—came up for discussion. The question of the settlements was precipitated by Begin’s renunciation of Sinai and had the most unfortunate repercussions in Egypt. Just as the anti-Semitic language used in Egyptian newspapers touched a sensitive nerve in Israel, so the suggestion of a foreign presence, particularly a foreign military presence, touched a sensitive nerve in Egypt.

It was not, however, on the Sinai question but on the Palestine question that the negotiations broke down. Of the two committees esablished in Ismailia, the military committee was concerned with most bilateral issues between Egypt and Israel. It seemed to be functioning fairly well and was working out a compromise agreement for a staged Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. The political committee, meeting in Jerusalem, was primarily concerned with the declaration of principles on the Palestinian question. Sadat’s decision to withdraw the Egyptian delegation in January broke the momentum of negotiation. Despite attempts from various quarters, the process has not been effectively resumed.

The circumstances of the Egyptian withdrawal remain somewhat mysterious. The meeting was not broken off because the work of the committee had reached a deadlock. Negotiations were difficult but were continuing, and some of the participants on both sides had expressed cautious optimism. Various explanations have been offered as to Sadat’s reasons for recalling his delegation. One is that he was offended by Begin’s strong words at a dinner of welcome for the Egyptian delegation. Another is that he was outraged by Israeli policy on the settlements which he saw as an indication that Israel prized territory above peace. A third theory is that this was a gesture toward the Arabs, and more particularly the Saudis, to whom he has to demonstrate from time to time that the peace process is neither simple nor easy.

Since then, contacts have continued in a desultory way. A small Israeli liaison mission remains in Cairo and from time to time there are direct contacts between Israeli and Egyptian personalities. An American attempt at shuttle diplomacy between the two produced no substantial results but at least helped to keep the process alive. Even now, despite the lack of progress, neither side is willing to declare that the initiative has failed. Indeed, in the domestic crisis in Egypt in May of this year it is noteworthy that the question of the peace initiative and relations with Israel did not figure either in the attacks on Sadat from opposition groups or in his referendum of the Egyptian people.



With Sadat’s acceptance of the principles of recognition and normalization, and Begin’s recognition of Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai, two of the main obstacles to peace have been removed. Two more remain: the question of the Israeli settlements and bases on the Egyptian side of the old international frontier, and the question of the Palestinians.

The first of these, though undoubtedly difficult, is manageable. Being concerned with places and lines, it is the kind of problem that can be formulated and discussed between governments. Furthermore, it is of a purely bilateral nature, concerning only Egypt and Israel. Once a modicum of mutual trust and good will is established, some reasonable solution of this problem will undoubtedly be devised.

The other problem, that of the Palestinians, is far more difficult. On this Sadat has made certain changes in his previous position, notably in his acceptance of a link with Jordan as the most desirable solution. Sadat has also made it clear that he does not feel himself to be empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians but must leave that to others. Instead, he would be content with a declaration of principles safeguarding the interests of the Palestinians and, thereby, also the honor of Egypt.5 Some Egyptians, including leading intellectuals, have indeed gone further and have argued in the press that Egypt should no longer sacrifice its interests for such ungrateful allies and should not delay the recovery of its own territory for the sake of others. This, however, is not Egyptian government policy. Sadat’s position remains that the Israelis must bind themselves in advance to withdrawal from all occupied territory in favor of an Arab, possibly Jordanian, authority. Even here, some compromise regarding the stages and extent of Israeli withdrawal might be devised, but obviously no real progress will be possible without Israeli agreement to the principle of withdrawal, which is still unclear; Egyptian consent to some territorial modification, which is still uncertain; and Jordanian participation, which is as yet not forthcoming.

There was a moment when the peace initiative might have brought immediate results. For a variety of reasons, some on the one side, some on the other, this did not happen. The process of peacemaking has not ceased, but it is making no visible progress. Sadat’s recent moves to strengthen his position in Egypt may be motivated by domestic considerations; they may also be preparatory to a major policy change—either to end the peace initiative, or to make a separate peace. His measures seem excessive for the present level of dissidence, but might be needed to deal with the reaction to either of these two courses. His choice between the two will be determined very largely by Israeli responses and by Saudi constraints. In the meantime, Sadat has clarified his own position and imposed a searching test on others—on the will to peace of the Israelis, the ultimate intentions of the PLO and their backers, the vaunted moderation of the Saudis, the wisdom and good will of the superpowers, the political courage and honesty of all the parties to both conflict and negotiation.



The need for peace remains on both sides, Egypt and Israel. The factors which impelled Sadat to embark on his journey and the peoples of both Israel and Egypt to respond so warmly are still there and still effective. It would be utopian to expect that the antagonism, the hostility, the conflicts of thirty years could be swept aside within a matter of a few weeks or even a few months.

Nor are these the only difficulties. Quite apart from the problems at issue, there are also powerful interests opposed to peace and willing to make every effort to prevent it. These will not be easily overcome, and it may be that the peace initiative will fail and come to an end. In the short run, the failure of the initiative would leave things worse than before, but even so, much will have been achieved that is irreversible. No one can ever say that any Arab leader who tries to make peace with Israel will be denounced and destroyed by his own people. The Egyptian people have shown that for them at least this is not true. After thirty years of silence, a dialogue has begun; after thirty years of isolation, the antagonists have seen each other in human terms instead of as devils incarnate. Israelis have met Egyptians and got to know them and learned that they can talk to them; Egyptians have learned the same thing about Israelis. This process of mutual discovery may well continue, perhaps with setbacks, perhaps for a shorter, perhaps for a longer, period, until sooner or later some form of understanding is achieved between Israel and Egypt. And if and when that is accomplished, others will surely follow.

1 The failure of the pro-Israel forces this past May to prevent the sale of planes to Saudi Arabia may give rise to the belief that this is no longer true. Such a belief, and the resulting expectations, could effectively block the way to an agreed settlement.

2 There are specific as well as general reasons for this mistrust, deriving from Sadat's collaboration with Nazi Germany and, more recently, from the “strategic deception” of October 1973 (described by both Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in The Road to Ramadan and Sadat in his autobiography, In Search of Identity), in which words of peace were used to achieve surprise in war.

3 Sadat's claim to have abolished censorship over the Egyptian press is genuine and not mere make-believe. Censorship was indeed abolished, but an Egyptian journalist explained to me how, in some ways, this worsened rather than improved the situation. In the days when censorship was still in force, journalists and editors combined to develop an arcane language of symbols and allusions which both they and their readers—though apparently not the censors—were able to understand and which made possible the serious discussion of basic issues, albeit in a concealed form. When censorship was abolished, the editors themselves, in effect, became the censors. They receive guidance and apply it with far more skill and intelligence than the censors were ever able to do. Without the editors' collaboration, the conduct of such debates is no longer possible. When the editor of the leftist weekly al-Ahali broke the rules of this new game, Sadat sought and obtained powers to deal with such dissidence. An example of self-censorship may be seen in the way in which news from Israel is handled in the Egyptian press. Often, important Israeli pronouncements are not cited textually but merely commented upon, with occasional direct quotations; these may be followed by rows of exclamation marks, to indicate to the reader which part of the printed text he is expected to disbelieve.

4 Begin's only immediate concession, made in his speech to the Knesset in reply to Sadat, may seem a trifling one—the offer to admit holders of Egyptian passports wishing to visit Israel. Such permission is unusual between states at war, though not, in fact, for the Israelis, who have long permitted the movement of persons, goods, and publications between the Arab world and Israel via the bridges over the Jordan and the occupied West Bank. It might, however, have made more of an impression than it did on the Arabs who after 1948 refused visas not only to Israeli Jews but even to non-Jewish Israelis and non Israeli Jews. Many Arab states still ask about religion in their visa application forms, and obstruct or refuse those applicants who declare their religion as Jewish and are without special sponsorship. Before the occupation by the Israelis of East Jerusalem in 1967, not only were Jews barred from the Old City, but Israeli Muslims, too, were unable to visit their holy places there and even Israeli Christians could do so only once a year, on Christmas day, and under very strict regulations. Until now, Israeli Muslims are not permitted by the Saudis to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. For Muslims this is a serious matter, since their pilgrimage to the holy places in Arabia, unlike the Jewish or Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem, is not optional but compulsory; it is one of the five basic duties of the faith, and failure to perform it is a sin.

5 The problem of the declaration of principles illustrates one of the many contrasts in this wholly asymmetrical dispute. For most of the members of the UN, declarations of principles have a life and significance of their own, not necessarily related to what is actually done. Israel belongs to the small minority of states which regard themselves as bound by declarations which they make. Even if an Israeli government were disposed to disregard such declarations, it would be held to them not only by its enemies but also, and perhaps more especially, by its friends.

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