Behind Sadat's suspension of Palestine autonomy talks
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By taking this step, Mr. Sadat has dramatically raised the visibility of the talks and of their failure and has told Israel and the United States that his patience does have limits. Egyptian negotiators returned from the latest session clearly displeased that the Americans did not try to establish common ground on the security issue and did not support the security plan they had proposed.Skip to next paragraph
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Nevertheless, Egyptian officials, and reportedly President Sadat as well, say they realize that President Carter will not be able to pressure the Israelis into making significant concessions to the Palestinians until after the November election.
But, said one official, "We'll continue to negotiate before, during, and after the elections." Monitor correspondent Ned Temko comments:
President Sadat's decision to suspend Palestinian autonomy talks with Israel is a tactic he has used before -- but this time Middle East analysts suspect, the Egyptian leader may have to wait a lot longer -- and settle for a lot less.
(In January 1978, when he severed talks with Israel, the Egyptian leader had to wait until the Camp David summit conference, eight months later, to get what he was angling for.)
The open question now is whether waiting longer and settling for less will be enough for the mercurial Egyptian President. This time:
* The issues are tougher. Back in 1978, negotiation centered on a separate Egyptian-Israeli treaty both countries deeply desired. Now US, Egyptian, and Israeli officials are talking about the Palestinians, the very core of three decades of Middle East conflict.
* The Carter administration is, or at least looks, weaker. Mr. Carter is understood to share the Egyptian view that Palestinian autonomy on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip would be all but meaningless if Israel keeps planting Jewish settlements there and insists on continued control of most major functions of government.
But, to get Israel to do anything about it, PResident Carter has to appear strong -- and headed for re-election in November. Instead, he has just sustained an embarrassing failure in efforts to free the American hostages in Iran. He has lost former secretary of state Cyrus Vance, who, despite the President's public insinuations to the contrary, was widely viewed both in Israel and the Arab world as the most "statesmanlike" member of the Carter administration.
And Mr. Carter's re-election seems, from this distance at least, uncertain.
Egyptian Prime Minister and chief autonomy negotiator Mustapha Khalil told The Christian Science Monitor that one major reason for Mr. Sadat's decision was Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's public pronouncement that Israelis must retain full control of West Bank and Gaza "security" under any autonomy accord.
This, to Mr. Khalil and other Egyptian officials, seemed the latest in a string of virtual Israeli ultimatums on central autonomy issues.
Yet whether on security, Israeli settlement, or other key negotiation questions, there was no guarantee that even energetic intervention by President Carter would persuade the Israelis to budge.