President Sadat of Egypt has suspended the talks with Israel over the future status of the Arabs in the territories which have been under Israeli military occupation since the six-day war of 1967. He has not broken them off. He says he will be ready to resume them at some more appropriate time, later on. But he has suspended them for the time being.
He has two reasons for the suspension. The first is that recent events show that Israeli Prime Minister Begin has no intention of giving an inch on his own annexationist policies unless or until he has to. And he will not have to at least until after the US elections in November. President Carter has twice, since the presidential election campaign got going, given in under pressure from the Israeli lobby.
Mr. Carter had authorized a US vote in favor of a UN resolution criticizing Israel's policy of more Jewish settlements in Arab territory. That vote was cast on March 1. Two days later the President repudiated that vote, claiming a "misunderstanding." On May 8 the United States abstained from another vote in the UN Security Council. This time the resolution before the Council criticized Israel for deporting three Arab leaders from the West Bank in violation of the Huge conventions, and called on Israel to rescind the expulsion and allow the three to return to their homes and duties. Two of them are prominent and much respected mayors of their towns.
The State Department had deplored the expulsion of the three Arab leaders when it occurred, but the White House ordered the US delegation to abstain from the vote. The 14 other members of the Council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. US diplomats said privately that they had recommended that the US vote in favor of the resolution, but had been overriden for political reasons.
In other words domestic politics forbid Mr. Carter to apply to Mr. Begin the kind of pressure which might make progress possible in the talks between Israel and Egypt over treatment of Arabs in the lands under Israeli military occupation. It can be assumed from the above events that Mr. Carter will continue to be unable to influence Mr. Begin effectively until the elections are over.Which means for Mr. Sadat that to continue the talks between now and election day would be an exercise in futility. Mr. Begin never gives ground unless or until he must.
There is a second reason behind Mr. Sadat's waiting strategy. Time in this case may very well be on his side.
Military occupations are seldom benevolent. They tend to breed resistance. The more resistance by the people living under occupation the harder and more ruthless the occupation authorities tend to behave. The occupying power loses the propaganda battle. The occupiers become themselves the victims of the measures their soldiers feel they must take to protect themselves.
This is happening right now, on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The Arabs had been relatively quiet and docile as long as the Camp David agreements seemed to hold to the prospect for an improvement in their lot. But Begin's policies of planting new settlements all over the Arab territories, of even pushing Israeli settlers inside solidly Arab towns, and of controlling the two things most vital to human survival -- land and water -- have caused rising Arab restlessness. Frustration and deferred hope breed anger and violence.
Almost daily now we get reports of the kind of things which always happen when a civilian population is under an increasingly hard military occupation. A child throws a stone at a tank. The soldiers retaliate. The young men form resistance movements and find arms. There is shooting, and retaliation, and more retaliation.
The present round of trouble started when Mr. Begin authorized the resettling of Jews in the city of Hebron. Incidents multiplied, at first small.Children threw stones at Israeli vehicles. Soldiers made arrests. There were beatings, a child was killed. Arabs set up an ambush in Hebron, killed 6 and wounded 17 in a column of Jews. Israel deported the three Arab leaders. Curfews and arrests followed.
When this was written the latest Israeli measure (subsequently rescinded) had been to seize two families whose children were suspected of having thrown stones. They were deported from living in modern conditions (water and electricity) to an abandoned refugee camp in the baking heat of the Jordan valley -- with nothing. It is called "internal exile."
This is the road the Germans took in Belgium in 1914, and in Czechoslovakia in World War II. It led the Germans in 1942 to the massacre at Lidice. Two hundred Czech men were shot, the village wiped out. Mankind sympathized with the Czechs, not with the Germans. The occupier always loses in this sort of thing. Mr. Sadat can wait. The more violence on the West Bank the stronger his case will be.