Egyptian diplomats are confident the new year will see Egypt's efforts to bring peace to the Middle EAst crowned with success. "It is only a question of time," President Anwar Sadat said with a tone of optimism. "this year we started receiving signals that 1981 will witness steps taken in the right direction toward a comprehensive settlement."
It is because Egypt wants to make sure steps will be taken in the right direction that the stakes are particularly high now. Egypt has received indications that the new United States administration would soon start looking into the prospects for the "Jordanian option." President-elect Ronald Reagan's top foreign policy advisers, including his designated national security adviser, Richard Allen, and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who has been visiting Egypt, believe Jordan has key role to play in settling the Palestinian problem.
the question now is when and how it should do so. Egypt already has conveyed to the incoming administration its view that the time has not come for Jordan to step in. Egypt's official stand, contained in a report on its assessment of Mideast peace efforts presented to Mr. Reagan's men and highlighting the premises of planned diplomatic efforts in 1981, includes these points:
* The advent of Jordan at this stage "amounts to a liquidation, not a solution, of the Palestinian problem," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. Egyptian contacts with the inhabitants of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip showed that "if given the choice between Israeli military government there and a Jordanian administration, the later does not represent to them the lesser of the two evils," he explained.
"So far, it remains better from a negotiaing point of view that those areas be consiered occupied territories. This keeps coptions open, allowing the Palestinians to decide on their future."
* Repressive measures taken by the Israeli military government against the West Bankers and Gazans, as well as the establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements there, "provoke resentment and lead to violence and extremism," according to an official. Egypt intends to push for confidence-establishing steps providing for freedom of expression and the exercise of political rights.
* Putting together a formula by which Jordan can participate is a "muddy and time-consuming operation," said an Egyptian diplomat closely linked with the process since it started. "It took us weeks to formulate the Camp David accords that King Hussein [of Jordan] has rejected. It will take us months to come up witht a different one to suit his demands."
Egypt is not rejecting the possibility of an ultimate federation between the West Bank and Jordan. But, "we have to put the Palestinians on the right track first. We will exert the maximum of our efforts to hold elections for a representative Palestinian body, and let them decide on their future," the diplomat said.
For that, Egypt is willing to indulge once more in talks with Israel, although efforts in that vein have produced little headway over the last 18 months. Egyptian officials are aware that after having waited for a long time, King Hussein finally got what President Sadat did not get when he launed the present peace process -- namely, the support of Arab oil-producing states.
But officials here are not worried. Thanks to Syrian President Hafez Assad's recent demonstration of force on the Jordan border and the PLO's rallying to his side in boycotting the Amman summit, even the PLO's endorsement of a Jordanian role will have to be delayed, analysts say.