ALEXANDRIA (Dec. 19)
There were scenes of intense public excitement as the Israeli delegation to the Cairo conference toured sites of Jewish and general interest yesterday in this ancient Mediterranean city, now a bustling metropolis of close to three million.
Throngs of Alexandrians, many of them school children on their way home at midday, gathered on pavements and behind police barriers to chant, clap, wave and sing as the Israelis drove past. One high point was when Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chief of the Israeli negotiating team, emerged from the Jewish old age home and strode towards the crowds with his arms upraised in greeting. The roar became deafening.
The words of one insistent, rhythmic chant were significant: “Fil Dam, Fil Ruh, Nifdiyk Ya-Sadat.” (With blood, with spirit, we will redeem you, a Sadat.)
To veteran Mideast hands, including reporters who have covered demonstrations on the West Bank, it was a familiar refrain. Only the last two words, “Ya-Sadat,” were new. On the West Bank it is usually, “Falastin” or “Ya Jallil” (Galilee). In Damascus it is “Ya Assad.” In Egypt it used to be “Ya Nasser” when the late President’s policies were for less peaceable than those of the present one.
This chant, the regular, disciplined chorus, rising or falling, quickening or slowing at the command of self-appointed young cheerleaders, tinged the exhilaration that the Israeli reporters felt with a shadow of doubt, or even apprehension.
The power of an enthused mass of people is of course overwhelming. Could this widespread, spontaneous outpouring for peace be reversed, if the political leadership so desired, and channeled into another, much more ominous direction? Many reporters here thought these thoughts out loud. Ben-Elissar and his fellow negotiators maintained their fixed smiles and kept their thoughts to themselves.
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A government official said yesterday, following the Cabinet meeting, that for the first time there is an understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding “substance” and not only procedural issues in relation to the Middle East talks. Officials get the impression–from the reports flowing from Washington and Cairo–that Israel and Egypt have taken “the right path” and that the momentum created by Sadat is being kept at its right pace.
Some political observers here estimated that Jordan’s King Hussein is likely to join the Cairo conference following the meeting of Sadat and Begin. Though this was not confirmed, the observers noted that Jordan’s media keeps a balanced and neutral attitude towards the Cairo conference and Sadat’s moves, and that this might be indicative of a Jordanian outlook to join the conference at a later stage.
These observers assume that since Begin’s plan as presented to Carter includes points regarding the West Bank and the administered territories, there might be another development in this aspect of the Cairo conference, mainly the joining of a Jordanian delegation.
Another indicator of the general feeling is a poll that was held in the last few days by the institute for Social Research, which discovered that no less than 46 percent of the Israelis believe that there would be no more war with the Arabs. The same poll further found that 90 percent of the Israelis truly believe now that Egypt wants to make peace with Israel.
Another survey, conducted by Market and Opinion Research found that 76 percent of the Israelis support “decisively” Begin’s policy. This find was published in the London Sunday Times before the Cairo talks began last week.