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Behind the Headlines Between the Fire and the Desire

March 13, 1979
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The furor raised in the Arab rejectionist camp against President Carter’s Cairo visit and the threats of a political and economic boycott of Egypt for welcoming him will not deter Egyptian President Anwar Sadat from reaching a peace treaty with Israel, Western diplomats said here last Friday.

“Sadat has gone too far for him to turn back now from his de facto alliance with America and the West,” a diplomat well seasoned in Egyptian affairs said. “Even if he stopped negotiations completely today with America he would never be acceptable again in the Arab circles that are cursing him now. But it is possible that Sadat may delay a final agreement with Israel for some time to let his enemies cool off a bit.”

When the question was put about the failure of Sadat to follow through in December, 1977 at Ismailia with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and again after the Camp David success last September, one European diplomat said, “You have to consider Sadat knows best how to proceed and keep his own political equilibrium.”

Sadat may not see fit even now, in the face of the uproar from Damascus and Baghdad and also the Palestine Liberation Organization, to conclude a treaty with Israel in the current period. Instead, he may seek a respite even though he recognizes Carter’s need for a political success to raise his political fortunes in America. But, a diplomat observed, there are ways to have a treaty and not have it, too, by the tactics of promising now and initialing and signing later.


Here in Egypt, it was pointed out, Sadat has the backing of industrial and commercial leaders, military commanders and others who make up most of the political power bloc. They are described as seeing the necessity of peace to bring Egypt into the modern economic sphere and prevent an explosion therefore they see Sadat as being on the right track in foreign policy.

Nervous about Sadat’s venture are middle-grade military officers — colonels and majors who entered the service during the rule of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. These officers were trained when, the Soviet government was strongly entrenched in Egypt. Many have retained Soviet methods and policies and they may be sympathetic to supporting Arab radicalism against both Israel and the West.

How does a Cairo citizen going about his personal affairs react to the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations? A casual conversation or two does not make a consensus but incidents that befell this correspondent do give a small indication When this correspondent asked a pedestrian for directions in the area of Cairo’s famous museum the man, who identified himself as a medical doctor, volunteered: “I hope we have peace soon for everybody.”

Another pedestrian, perhaps only practicing his English, approached this correspondent and engaged him in conversation by expressing hopes for peace. “When do you think it will come?” he was asked. “I am bored with all this talk already. I want peace right now,” he replied.

A top Egyptian journalist, All Rashad, who is the foreign editor of the Middle East News Agency, told JTA that Egypt wants peace. When he was asked if that meant peace for Israel, too, with on Egyptian-Israeli treaty, he replied “How can you have peace without a treaty with Israel?”


However, discordant notes were sounded in Al Ahram, the semi-official daily that frequently speaks for the Egyptian government In on editorial last Friday, the paper claimed that Sadat and president Carter would have “more than likely” reached an agreement on an Israel-Egypt peace treaty if not for Begin tossing obstacles in its way.

“It has been Begin’s conventional tactic to clash with the U.S. government and President Carter and then resort to the Jewish lobby within the U.S. so that it may pressure the Administration and in the meantime make use of Zionist-led media to influence and hence mislead American public opinion, “Al Ahram said.

Begin changed his “extreme position” last weekend in Washington for four reasons, Al Ahram said The first is that “Begin has realized that the U.S. is adamant in its position and that it will not succumb to his pressure.” Secondly, Begin has “found that his friends in the U.S. and the leaders of the pressure groups are backing Mr. Carter’s stand.”

Next, Iran’s new rulers have severed their relations with Israel “and Turkey is on its way to do the same, ” and “moreover, the U.S. would give priority to its already staked interests in the area should these interests clash with its special relations with Israel.”

Continuing, Al Ahram stated: “The fact is that Israeli public opinion and Israel’s supporters abroad are keen on not letting the chances of peace slip by whatever the reasons or motives especially in view of the general impression inside and outside Israel that Begin will be personally to blame should peace chances be missed.” The newspaper did not mention that Begin and the Israeli Cabinet had accepted Carter’s suggestions.

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