Making the best of what is expected to be a protracted hiatus in actual peace negotiations, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has launched a spirited new campaign to garner European support for his vision of a comprehensive Middle East settlement.
His address to the European Parliament in Luxembourg, scheduled for Feb. 10, climaxes a fresh diplomatic overture to members of the European Community (EC).
In the past month, the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands have all made their way to Cairo for consultations, and Mr. Sadat is scheduled to meet Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the West German Foreign Minister when he returns to Egypt later this week. Following his speech to the European Parliament, the Egyptian leader will fly to France to confer with President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Mr. Sadat would like to see an EC initiative in the Middle East that would help defuse Arab hostility toward Egypt and the United States over the Camp David agreements of 1978 and the peace treaty with Israel a year later.
Within two weeks after Mr. Sadat's address, Dutch Foreign Minister Christoph van der Klaauw, current president of the EC Council of Ministers, will set off on a 14- nation tour of the Middle East. The Dutch official will gather Arab and Israeli reaction to the broad outlines of an EC peace plan that calls for Israeli withdrawal from Arab land seized in the 1967 war and a recognition by all parties of Israel's right to exist and of the rights of the Palestinians.
The EC, which has said the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) must be "associated" with peace negotiations, likewise has a better chance than either Egypt or the United States of convincing the Palestinians themselves to take part in the process initiated by President Sadat.
To date, Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip, taking directions from the PLO, have stayed defiantly outside the negotiations involving Egypt, Israel, and the United States to implement a Camp David-based autonomy plan for the two territories.
In going before the European Parliament, Mr. Sadat apparently wants to ensure that an EC initiative directs the Arabs and the Palestinians toward the Camp David framework rather than to a parallel or competing forum.
President Sadat, despite the failure so far of the Palestinian autonomy talks , says he remains committed to the Camp David accords and has accompanied his recent expressions of interest in the EC with subtle warnings that the agreements must not be tampered with.
At the same time, the Egyptians, who see Israel as a ward of the United States, are convinced that without America a European initiative is worthless. "Nothing could be realized," Mr. Sadat told a French magazine recently, "without American assistance, for the reason that the Israelis belong only to the Americans."
Just days before the President's departure, one of his closest associates and a leading newspaper columnist wrote that "any attempt to pressure Israel will have to be with US participation. What Egypt has been doing all along is nothing other than to secure such active participation from the US. Far from objecting to a European role in the Middle East, Egypt supports it . . . if it does not deprive us of the American contribution."
Nonetheless, Egypt has rediscovered the potential place of the EC in Middle East diplomacy at a moment when the policies of both its conventional peace partners have been rendered uncertain by domestic political changes. In Israel, the Egyptians are anticipating that a slightly more accommodating Labor Party government will replace that of Prime Minister Menachem Begin early this summer in general elections. In the US, the approach to the Middle East by the Reagan administration still awaits firm definition.
Egyptian officials have been heartened by public statements from Reagan spokesmen that commit the United States to Camp David and to Egypt's role as a strategic American ally. Anxieties persist, though, and will probably not be dispelled until Presidents Sadat and Reagan meet face to face some time this year.