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Behind the Headlines Outlook for Camp David

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Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat meet with President Carter at Camp David next week in a dramatic setting whose outcome and even length are shrouded in deepest uncertainty. Astute analysts with a normally sure touch on political ways are avoiding forecasts on the ultimate result.

“I don’t have a fix on it,” said Max Kampelman, the well-known Washington lawyer, in a comment typical of his peers who have special insights through intimacy with political leaders. “All I can say now is that Carter was right in calling the meeting. The Middle East situation had deteriorated to a dangerous point.”

How dangerous can be measured by Carter’s alarm over Sadat’s threat of a military buildup when his three-year pledge to keep the peace in Sinai expires in October; Syria’s apparent design to control Lebanon by eliminating the Christian militia; and on the tightening grip on America’s economic future by Saudi Arabia whose widely publicized announcements, carefully timed, support the falling dollar and maintain current oil prices but without specifying how long it will do so.

While the three leaders have each in their own way proclaimed that a “comprehensive” solution for the Middle East is their goal, no one expects anything like that to emerge at Camp David. However, the least that is expected by Americans is that Egyptian-Israeli talks will continue on a lower level within a conceived “framework” after the summit and thus extend and, hopefully, expand the slender trail towards an accommodation between Cairo and Jerusalem and later include Jordan, and possibly Syria.

MIASMA OF OFFICIAL STATEMENTS

Between these two extremes is a miasma of official statements and inspired comments from which observers draw any image they deem logical according to their own views. Between them, too, is the possibility of an Egyptian-Israeli understanding by a name other than “bilateral agreement.” For example, Sadat has rejected any “partial solution or separate settlement” but it is argued that he might be amenable to Begin’s proposed “permanent partial settlement” in some form if nothing better for Sadat comes into view.

When Butros Ghali, Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister and a member of Sadat’s negotiating team, was asked about Begin’s “partial” plan he was quoted as replying: “We have no objection to reaching a comprehensive settlement through a different kind of approach. If this will be just a method to reach a comprehensive settlement, we have no objection. But if it will be just a step towards a bilateral approach, we will refuse it.”

Thin as that is, the Ghali view is seen as a silver lining in the otherwise black Egyptian cloud that seemingly spreads as the summit nears. The Egyptians are reported to believe Carter will be a “full partner” at Camp David, according to Cairo’s perception of that phrase and not a “mediator” that Israel thinks he should be. Predictably, Carter has said he will be a “full partner” but “primarily” the decisions are up to Begin and Sadat, although he will offer “suggestions” which some Israelis fear may add up to a peace plan that would jeopardize Israel’s existence.

EGYPTIAN WARNINGS CONTINUE

Egyptian negotiators are also reported as continuing to insist on “Palestinian self-determination” to protect themselves and the Arab oil governments from terrorist activities as much as to please the Palestinian Arabs.

Moreover, the Guardian of London, sympathetic to Sadat, reported in a dispatch from its correspondent in Cairo: “In spite of hints Sadat was reported to have dropped in talks last month with Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Labor opposition leader Shimon Peres, I have found no sign in Cairo of Egyptian flexibility on the territorial issue, or on the maintenance of an Israeli military presence beyond its borders after an evacuation” by Israel from occupied territories.

Egyptians also are giving warnings, besides Sadat’s military threat. They are saying privately, press reports indicate, that Sadat’s patience is limited and that the Arabs might again “wave the oil weapon.”

Arab pressure on the United States is manifested also in the privately voiced warning in Cairo, according to media reports, that if Begin refuses to accommodate Sadat, the Arabs would take the conflict back to the United Nations Security Council with an Arab resolution specifying that Resolution 242 excluded Israel occupation of any land. In this scenario, the oil weapon would be used to pressure Carter not to cast the U.S. veto and therefore allow creation of “a new reality” in which Washington would voice its displeasure against Israel.

Begin has offered his 26-point peace plan which, in “new” language and some modifications, essentially is understood to be unchanged from what he proposed to Sadat in Ismailia last December. No one expects Begin to alter his position on what he considers imperatives for Israel’s security and survival.

CARTER’S BASIC POSITION UNCHANGED

Carter’s position also appears basically unchanged–“true” peace in exchange for Israeli withdrawals to its 1967 borders except for “minor” adjustments that Washington has not defined, and a “Palestinian entity” or “homeland” he “prefers” is linked to Jordan. Whether he will attempt to persuade Begin to change his views by introducing the possibility of an American “presence” in the area–as National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski is reported in U.S. News and World Report as proposing–is a possibility within the U.S. maneuvers at the summit.

Begin has said his government would consider a security treaty if the U.S. proposed it but he made it clear last December that he does not favor it and he opposed “international guarantees” as part of an Arab-Israeli agreement. He does not believe they are workable and cites history to prove his point.

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