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Egyptians applaud as Europeans bow toward Palestinians

By Nathaniel HarrisonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 19, 1980


Egyptians are savoring what they consider one of the sweetest diplomatic fruits of President Sadat's peace efforts: the sight of one West European government after another mobilizing on behalf of the Palestinians.

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It's an especially gratifying triumph for Egypt since it comes at a time when American election politics appear to prevent President Carter from acting decisively in Middle East diplomacy.

In recent weeks, senior foreign ministry officials from Britain, West Germany , and the Netherlands have joined French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in unequivocal endorsements of Palestinian self-determination. And the Austrian government, in formally recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization, has gone a step further.

"Sadat has thrown a stone into a stagnant pool and suddenly everything has changed," says one beaming foreign ministry official here.

For Egypt, President Sadat's willingness to break ranks with the Arabs and to recognize Israel, in return for expected Israeli concessions to the Palestinians , has earned the respect and approbation of much of the Western world. Israel, Egyptians believe, in failing to honor Mr. Sadat's gesture in kind, is more isolated and defensive about itself than ever before. And the Sadat initiative, they say, has at last inspired the European Community (EC) to take the Palestinian cause seriously.

Precisely how the much-discussed European initiative will take shape is still not clear. There have been reports lately of the Europeans devising a United Nations resolution specifically citing the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and of the EC sponsoring an Arab-Israeli forum.

But Egyptian officials are adamant on one point: Whatever develops, the Camp David agreements must not be overlooked, deemphasized, or tampered with; the principles of Camp David, as well as the mechanics for implementing Palestinian autonomy, must not be abandoned.

Egypt doesn't want to suffer a chorus of self-righteous "I told you so's" from hardline Arab governments. It does not want it to appear that President Sadat had taken a false step in opening the dialogue with Israel.

Whatever comes from the EC, says a Foreign Ministry official, "it must be an addition to, and not a substitute for, Camp David. It should not appear as a substitute for what Egypt has already done. No one should be able to say Egypt has failed."

The nascent European initiative may nevertheless provide the Egyptians with a means of salvaging their own efforst on behalf of the Palestinians once, as now seems inevitable, autonomy negotiations involving Egypt, Israel, and the United States reach their May 26 deadline inconclusively.

On March 25 the three sides will meet in Alexandria in still another attempt to determine what autonomy will mean for the 1.1 million Palestinians living on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip.