Two years have passed since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his historic journey to Israel and gave impetus to the first real move toward peace between the two nations.
William Claiborne, The Washington Post's correspondent in Jerusalem, took the occasion to evaluate how matters now stand between Egypt and Israel. In his dispatch in yesterday's Post, Claiborne began by recalling President Sadat's statement that 70 percent of the barriers to peace were psychological. The point was valid then. It remains valid today.
So much depends on how two nations perceive each other. When they regard each other as friends, disagreements that arise between them are not cause for alarm. The people in both countries assume that their representatives will meet, discuss, bargain, compromise, and work out an equitable agreement. But when two nations regard each other as enemies, it is assumed that each disagreement will escalate into confrontation because the other side has always been perceived to be hateful.
Unhappily, that is what we now face in our dealings with Iran. The ayatollah regards us as meddlers and enemies of Islam. We supported a despot who ruled by decree, who gave no accounting for public funds, and who exterminated those who opposed him. We regard the ayatollah as an implacable foe of the United States, a despot who also rules by decree and exterminates those who oppose him. For good measure, he violates the rules of civilized international conduct.
Our man Edward Cody described the great difference between Egyptian and other Arab perceptions of Israel. Haynes Johnson wrote of Iran's "classic misreading of American attitudes and values," and summed it up in these words: "If we don't know the Iranians, to say nothing of the fanatical ayatollahs urging suicidal warfare, they surely don't know us."
Ah, yes! If all of us had the power to see ourselves as others see us, life would be a lot simpler. The possibility would exist that some new statesman could appear on the scene with a dramatic move like Sadat's that would bring the two sides together.
When people meet face to face to discuss their differences, there is always the hope they will discover that cooperation is in the interests of both sides. There is always the chance that one small step toward understanding will lead to others, and eventually to peace. If longtime adversaries like Americans and Russians can work out an arms limitation agreement, if traditional enemies like Egyptians and Israelis can catch "peace fever," as Claiborne calls it, then anything is possible.
But the ayatollah persists in his longstanding perception that we are Satan incarnate. He has no interest in negotiating with the Devil.
Even worse, he has repeated his false charge that we engineered the terrorist attack against the Great Mosque in Mecca -- the charge that inflamed millions of Moslems and triggered additional attacks against Americans stationed abroad.
The ayatollah's call for all Moslems to join in a holy war against the United States leaves President Carter in the hopeless dilemma that is the fate of all who are called upon to deal rationally with irrational behavior.
No course is right because no attempt to achieve peace can succeed unilaterally. It takes two to fight. It takes two to make peace. We are stalemated.
Can we change the ayatollah's perception of us?Can he change our perception of him? How?
At this moment, the best chance to break the stalemate appears to be for every nation that respects diplomatic immunity to make it clear to the ayatollah that he is making Iran an outcast among nations.
But for that to happen, we will need the cooperation of dozens of ungrateful nations that also perceive us to be hostile to them, despite the billions of dollars we have meted out to them.
Those who clamor for President Carter to "do something," even something reckless, make the problem worse rather than better. In traveling about the country, Haynes Johnson found that most Americans favor our using military force -- although we all know that the slaughter of the hostages would almost certainly follow at once.
Adolf Hitler was also the high priest of an uncompromising movement. The record is clear on how much success various statesmen had in trying to get Hitler to conform to a rational course of conduct.
Fortunately, the ayatollah does not have an efficient war machine at his command. Even he must realize that he cannot win by force.
It has been suggested that our embassy was seized to provide an emotional climate in which the ayatollah's new constitution would win certain approval. If that was indeed the reason for the seizure, perhaps a face-saving end to the crisis will be found soon.