Of subtleties and linkages

Are you, dear reader, the kind of person who likes to try to solve puzzles? If so, try working your way through this one with me. On Feb. 10 Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat addressed the European Parliament assembled in Luxembourg.Its members cheered when they heard him say that Western Europe's new political unity symbolized by the Parliament makes it "uniquely qualified to play a prominent role in the world of today." From that premise he proceeded to urge them to play that role in the Middle East by supporting the right of the Palestinian Arabs to "self-determination" and "national dignity."

The audience applauded again when the Egyptian President said, "We invite you to participate with us in persuading both Israel and the Palestinians to accept a formula of simultaneous and mutual recognition."

In other words, Mr. Sadat went to Luxembourg and appeared to encourage Western Europe to undertake that "new initiative" toward a peace between Israel and the Arabs which the Europeans have been talking about ever since the Camp David process lost momentum last summer. Israel strongly opposes the "new initiative" which would have the effect of taking control of Israeli-Arab negotiations from Washington hands where Israel has the advantage and putting them into a larger forum where Arab interests are more respected.

So far, it all seems simple. But read on.

Two days before Mr. Sadat left Cairo for the European meeting in Luxembourg, Israeli television and radio disclosed purported details of a supposedly secret message from Israel's ambassador in Cairo to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The report claimed that President Sadat had assured Mr. Begin that he would not allow any European "new initiative" to interfere with the Camp David process. The news reports also alleged that Mr. Sadat thinks that some European states want to "drive a wedge" between Egypt and Israel.

On the day after this report was broadcast over Israeli radio and TV the Israeli government said that it had launched an investigation to determine who had "leaked" the supposedly "secret" message from Mr. Sadat to Mr. Begin.

Now, can you figure out who is trying to do what to whom and for what purpose?

Start with the "leaked" message from Cairo to Mr. Begin. Israeli radio and television is nominally semi-independent of the government. But it is difficult to believe that a "secret" diplomatic document could be "leaked" and used on the air without the intent of the government or at least of an important faction in the government.

The effect of the leak was to embarrass Mr. Sadat during his European visit. It certainly made him appear to be trying to promote in Luxembourg what he had purportedly told Mr. Begin he did not intend to do before going to Luxembourg. Is Mr. Sadat carrying water on both shoulders; trying to keep his relations with Israel in good shape while trying to improve his relations with the West Europeans who are eager now to get on with their "new initiative"?

It almost made Mr. Sadat appear to be a person trying to persuade the West Europeans that he is a "good Arab" while reassuring the Israelis that he is not.

But how accurate was the Israeli report? You and I do not know that it represented Mr. Sadat's position accurately. So add another question mark.

Neither you nor I can be sure what lies behind all this, but here is one partially informed observer's guess.

The incomplete Camp David process gave Egypt what it wants for its own purposes -- the restoration to Egypt of all lost Egyptian territory and the economic advantages of normalized trade relations with Israel.But it has not yet produced for the Arabs of Palestine or the other neighboring Arab states the benefits which they hoped to get. Camp David was in fact stalled at what Egypt and Israel both most wanted. It did not go beyond that to a general peace between Israel and all its neighbors.

The West Europeans want that comprehensive and final peace which Camp David was supposed to have sought. They want it urgently because access to Gulf Oil is a vital necessity to them. It is desirable to the United States, but not vital. With rationing the US could survive on its own oil resources.

So there is rising pressure in Western Europe for renewed progress and in increasing inclination to suspect Mr. Sadat of being more interested in protecting what he already has from Camp David than in helping his brother Arabs in Palestine. He wishes to reassure them on that point, but without jeopardizing his own Camp David gains. Besides, he undoubtedly thinks that time will gradually modify the Reagan administration's pro-Israel inclinations.

The Reagan administration has already stated that it will continue with the Camp David process. The probable key to it all is disagreement between Mr. Sadat and the West Europeans over how soon to launch the "new initiative." Both believe that at some point the West Europeans must help in pulling Washington away from Camp David towards that "general and comprehensive peace" which in theory everyone wants -- the West Europeans and the Palestine Arabs most of all. But Mr. Sadat thinks it is wiser and safer to keep the Camp David umbrella up over the discussions for the time being.

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