Mideast peace talkers holding cards carefully
Washington — Israeli, Egyptian, and American negotiators are beginning efforts here to revive the dormant Palestinian autonomy talks, each with a weather eye on his own political climate at home.
Each has reasons to play his cards carefully, to avoid antagonizing his constituency, and to not seem to be giving too much away.
But all three -- Ambassador Sol Linowitz of the United States, Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali of Egypt, and Interior Minister Yosef Burg of Israel -- share compelling reasons to keep "playing the only peace game in town," as US diplomats like to call it, rather than throwing in their cards and quitting.
It was egyptian President Sadat who suspended the talks last month. He argued that by speeding up integration of Arab East Jerusalem into Israel, the Isralies had made it impossible to continue discussing a five-year "transitional" settlement in which, Arabs insist, East Jerusalem must remain Arab.
Approval by an Israeli parliamentary committee of a bill declaring all of Jerusalem to be Israel's capital and US abstention on a June 30 United Nations Security Council resolution "deploring" Israel's actions to integrate East Jerusalem have not made the task of the negotiators any easier. (Their talks were scheduled to begin July 2.)
Israel was annoyed by the US abstention, and Egypt was equally unhappy over the Israeli parliamentary action, their diplomats here made clear. UN sources said both Arab and European delegates were pleased that the US had done nothing to undercut their position that East Jerusalem's status must be settled in a peace agreement.
Such a stand, Mr. Sadat knows well, is essential if he is to recover much of the support he has lost in the Arab world through his history-making peace treaty with Israel. Saudi Arabia has let it be known that a firm Sadat stand on Jerusalem, as on Palestinian self-determination, is a condition for the Saudi-Egyptian rapprochement that seems to be in the making. Saudi Arabia, Egypt's one-time treasurer and staunch friend, was estranged from the Sadat government by the Camp David treaty.
Israel is still smarting under its latest condemnations in the United Nations and the recent demand of the nine-state European Community that it be prepared to surrender occupied Arab territory and agree to Palestinian self-determination.And it is handicapped in the new round of talks by Prime Minister Menahem Begin's hospitalization June 30.
With Mr. Begin apparently out of action for at least several days, Mr. Burg cannot soften his government's hard-line determination to go on building Jewish settlements in the occupied areas and to silence Palestinian opposition. Nor can he show flexibility on the crucial questions of control of Jerusalem and of the West Bank's land, water resources, and future political machinery.
President Carter, in persuading both sides to sit down together again and explore the possibility of resuming the talks, is, of course, concerned with guarding what his supporters consider his main foreign-policy achievement: the Camp David accords.
Insiders say that President Carter coaxed Mr. Sadat to send his team back to explore the possibilities by pointing out that the growing strife on the West Bank makes it essential to be talking. If the Egyptians were not confronting the Israelis and asking for an accounting for the seizures of land and water and the tough behavior of the occupation forces, no one else whom the Israelis respect would do so, ran the US argument.
The Egyptians are said to have gently remonstrated that it was above all the US, as Israel's main financial, political, and military supporter, which should be talking to the Israelis this way.
In over a year of the autonomy talks, one Egyptian official said, "the only point where we really all agree is that they are taking place under the Camp David 'umbrella' as part of comprehensive peace talks."
The essence of "autonomy," as the Egyptians see it, is a transfer of authority form the Israeli military authorities to the local Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Mr. Begin's government, however, wants to limit control of the selfgoverning Palestinian authority to matters like highways and sanitation.
The Egyptians argue that by continuing to seize land and arrest people on the West Bank and in Gaza; the Israelis are driving moderate-minded Palestinians away from any thought of cooperating with future "autonomy" arrangements. They are also further undermining Mr. Sadat's already difficult position in the Mideast and Arab world, and, as one Egyptian official put it, "demonstrating how weak the United States is, vis-a-vis Israel."
And last, the Egyptian argument runs, Mr. Begin's rightist government is "creating facts" that will tie the hands of any more reasonable-minded Israeli government of the future -- such as a Labor Party government.
However, US, Israeli, and Egyptian diplomats do seem to agree on one more crucial point: the rationale for the autonomy talks is that some day Palestinians and Israelis can and will live as good neighbors. As shown by the growing strength of the Israeli peace movement and its mainstream American Jewish supporters, more Israelis now believe in this.
Where the Egyptians and Israelis appear to differ most sharply is on the shape of a future Palestinian entity. While a majority of Israelis still seem to fear that any Palestinian state would be Soviet-controlled or Soviet-influenced and therefore a danger to Israel, the Egyptian thesis is that it would be "not a Soviet base, but an Arab one" -- with backing of the Saudis and other wealthy and decidedly anti-Soviet Arabs.