Israel-Egypt peace talks: inside views; The Battle for Peace, by Ezer Weizman. New York: Bantam Books. $15.95.; Breakthrough: a Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations, by Moshe Dayan. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $15.
For anyone who is interested in understanding the Egypt-Israel peace process and the roles played by Menachem Begin, the late Anwar al-Sadat, and Jimmy Carter, these two books are invaluable.
Both Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman are military men who write with precision and occasional eloquence. As foreign minister and defense minister respectively , both Dayan and Weizman participated in the first, precedent-breaking peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt, including the Camp David summit meetings of September 1978. They subsequently split with Prime Minister Begin over his handling of the post-Camp David negotiations over the fate of the Arabs living in the territories occupied by Israel.
According to Weizman, Prime Minister Begin imposed so many restrictions and qualifications on the autonomy plan which he had offered the Arabs living in the occupied territories that he had reduced the plan to a "caricature of genuine self-rule."
A former Air Force chief who had headed the election campaign which brought Begin to power, Weizman felt that the longer Israel waited to make compromises with Egyptian President Sadat, the more Sadat would increase his demands on the Israelis.
As Weizman saw it, ". . .the faster we understood Sadat's problems and responded to his demands -- while the Arab world's pressure upon him was still relatively mild -- the less would be required to satisfy him. . . . All he wanted on the Palestinian issue was a general declaration of principles, which were scarcely binding upon anyone."
Dayan, a hero of the 1967 war, did not believe, as Begin apparently did, that Israeli sovereignty could be imposed on the Arabs living in the occupied territories against their will.
Begin, as well as a number of his ministerial colleagues, for their part, felt that Dayan and Weizman were too ready to compromise with the Egyptians and the Americans.
As foreign minister, Dayan was more deeply involved in the nitty-gritty of the negotiations with the Egyptians than Weizman was. Dayan's book is heavy with the details of negotiating positions and the arguments that occured over just about every comma in the written agreements. That is helpful to specialists, but an average reader who does not have the time to read both books , might be best advised to turn to Weizman, whose account is richer than Dayan's in its description of personalities and events. Weizman's descriptions of Sadat , Begin, and Carter are useful and at times fascinating.
Along with their criticisms of Prime minister Begin, both writers praise him for his courage in agreeing to return the Sinai to Egypt and for his skill in selling the idea to his country and colleagues.
Despite his reputation in some circles as a weak leader, President Carter comes across in Weisman's book as tough, stubborn, energetic, and resourceful. Only Carter had the power to bang together the heads of Begin and Sadat and force them to reach agreement. According to Weizman, it was Carter who came up with the idea of aiming for two agreements: the first dealing with the peace between Egypt and Israel and the second dealing with an overall peace settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict.
Dayan describes Carter as indefatigable, a man of bulldog persistence. But he faults Carter and some of his American collegues for a lack of depth in their knowledge of the Middle East.
"They did not put themselves in the shoes -- or rather the hearts -- of either side," writes Dayan.
"They knew what the Israeli and Arab representatives were saying, buty they did not always distinguish between what was uttered for bargaining purposes and external consumption, and what was the profound expression of the spirit and yearnings of a nation."