UNTIL the last moment Sadat and Begin had bickered over words, Sadat insisting on the "Gulf of Aqaba," Begin holding out for the "gulf of Eilat," and also, I was informed, on "judea and Samaria." But here they were, differences for the moment composed, ready to put down their names.
Most of those present were moved. Some said they were moved against their better judgement. They hadn't the strength to resist the great moment. "Stupedous," said Arthur Goldberg. I spoke to some observers, however, who could not bring themselves to put aside the habit of a caveat. Well, we'll see, they said. Or Pourvu que ca dure . We are all filled with warm blood, the impulse to hope is very strong in us, but those who have seen a great deal of life have learned the wisdom of keeping a quantity of cold blood in reserve. But even the mose reserved and cautious of the Isreali, Egyptian and American diplomats and journalists whose opionons I sought said it is a most significant advance, a great historic occasion, peace between enemied who have repeatedly spilled each other's blood.
Hardly a man of importance present has escaped personal suffering. The brother of Sadat was shot down in the was of 1973, the son of Ezer Weizmann has never recovered from his wounds, Dayan very early suffered the loss of an eye, the families of Begin and of many of his cabinet officers and assistants were destroyed in Hitler's murder camps. One of Begin's staff, Mr. Elissar, was as a boy saved from destruction by the death of another child whose parents had emigration papers and who took your Elissar in the dead boy's place. Elissar's own family did not survive. Such are the people who this day affix their names to the agreement.
On a day like one naturally regrets not being an expert or one of those insiders who throughly understand. It's hell to be an amateur. A little reflection calms your sorrow, however. The experts, in their own little boat, the rest of us floating with the rest of mankind in a great barge - that is this picture. We must do what we can to grasp whatever it is possible to grasp of all these treaties, SALT talks, Iranian revolutions, Russian manuevers in Yemen, Chinese visits.
President Johnson used to say that he knew what was heppening in Vietnam; he had information he couldn't share with us and without which we had no opinions worth considering. But he, too, turned out to be just another amateur.
And we non-knowers have our rights. "No annihilation without representation," as Arnold Toynhee once put it. You dare not give up the struggle to form an opinion. There are moments, certainly, when you feel like Mother Goose's pussycat who goes to London to see the queen. But at other times you refuse to concede that he keenest of professionals and specialists have the right to dismiss any considerable investment of mind, feelign and imagination.
When I supported the Israeli Peace Now Movement last summer I was denounced, together with the other signers, as a meddler and ignoramus who had no right to a viewpoint. "The notion - how can we criticize when we do not live in Israel - has been a remarkably powerful slogan," writes the Chicago sociologist Morris Janowitz. From our side we might argue that Israel, for its survival, it obliged to understand certain matters of which we as Americans have some first-hand knowledge.
One need not be a processional superstar to understand the fundamentals. Isreal has until now had to depend for survival entirely on its military strength but it is plain to everyone that the military effectiveness of Isreal must eventually reach its limit, perhaps has already reached it. What is fundamental, therefore, and beyond argument, it the need for a political solution - a political-military solution.
Israel is in no position to reject this.
Begin could not, of course, publicly state what he assuredly knew about the increasing futility of relying on military strength alone. It would be both demoralizing and dangerous to make such statements. But since the revolution in Iran the facts are clear for all the would to see.A complete victory of radical extremism in the Arab would would mean the defeat of all Jewish hopes, the end of Israel. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, with whom I talked briefly after the ceremony, this world present the greatest danger also to Western Europe.
BRZEZINSKI has a pleasing face, a narrow, aristocratic Polish nose in which I, raised among Poles in Chicago, can identify a characteristic irregularity of line, the Salvic eye frame, and a whiteness of the skin more intense than that of Western Europe - not pallor, but positive whiteness. Brzezinski, a fluent and willing talker, necessarily guarded but not dragging his feet, said he wes immensely pleased but not exuberant. He did not believe the Saudis would discontinue financial support to Egypt. He opined also that the Isrealis would prove flexible enough to deal with the Arab problem. Brzezinski evidently believes that responsible Isreali politicians do not intent, cannot aford, to let the treaty unravel and that they understand quite well what the seizure of power by radicals in Egypt would mean for them.
Less guarded officials, off the record, tell you that Sadat was hardly impressed by the great rage he had generated in the Arav world. Instead, Sadat seems fairly lighthearted about it, all things considered. These officlas tell you that Sadat has the most violent contempt for his enemies in the Arab world, that his untraslatable purple invectives belong to no minor branch of the art of metaphor. H.L. Mecken once published a dictionary of curses, of all the terrible things his detractors had to say about him. This was purely a local American product. It might be useful to do the same thing on a world scale.
Butros Ghali, the Egyptian foreign minister, in his large hotel suite, gave us his view of some of the disputed issues. He is a diplomat whose smooth Egyptian-French surfaces easily deflected unwelcome questions. There were no unmannerly rejections, only as easy, practiced turning aside of things he didn't care to discuss.
Mr. Ghali is interested, however, in a question about Israeli businessmen and technicians in Egypt. He puts cultural relations in the first place. These, to him, are more important that business connections. The Israelis should learn Arabic, he says. He emphasiezes that he does not mean the lower-class Arabic many Jews learned from their neighbors in the old days - the sort of Arabic Dayan speaks. Israelis would be wrong to take on attitude of superiority and assume that they would naturally be called upon to improve the backward Eguptians. They must not make the mistake the Franch made in Algeria of adopting the superior role. I interpret him to mean that a crowd of Israelis will be attarcted to Egypt by business apportunities and by the vast sums provided by the United States for the modernization of agriculture and industry. They will not be welcome; they had better proceed with infinite tact.
Lastly the party, the Carters' great outdoor bash to which Joseph Alsop refereed as "the President's Dubar." Bands played, the Singing Sergeants sang hard, no one paid much attention to them. The important guests, Mr. Mordale, Mr. Kisinger, Mr. James Schlesinger, a person of monumental presence, a great pillar smoking his pipe, shook hands smiled, gave out their views, I presume - I listened to few conversations, there were too many distractions.
Our table companions were Congressman Zablocki of Milwaukee, a power in Foreign Affairs; his young daughter; a Tezas businessman, one of Carter's very early supporters, his wife an daughter, all extermely good looking, silently taking in the celebrity show; the Israeli minister of the interior, a large, amiable, loose-jointed person in an Orthodox beanie, keen to have a good talk but dismayed by the volume of noise. He did his best. He told me two very good jokes in Yiddish and reminisced about old times at the University of Leipzig, where he had studied symbolic logic. Hearing that my wife was a mathematician, he talked with animation about the great Hilbert and told us what he, Mr. Berg, had to say in his orals about Immanuel Kant.
So there were, after all, serious people present who could not easily accept the gala on a day like this, and were puzzled and put out by the gaudiness and the noise. But for the moment there is nothing to do but eat your salmon mousse, sip you wine, and wait for the powers of mind and feeling to regroup themselves for a fresh start. You tell yourself that human beings have lived for many thousands of years in the Middle East and in that time have created complex difficulties, beliefs bewilderingly similar and for the reason utterly dissimilar, hatreds and profound needs that cannot be conjured away. What footing rationality can find in these infinitely contorted desires and antipathies in our revolutionary time remains to be seen. Let us hope that the threat of annihilation may rouse reason to break through the accretion of prejudices and that the face of death may shock our minds at last into full clarity.