GOOD FOR Menachem Begin. Under pressure from Palestinians, Egypt, the United States, the United Nations and many Israelis to rescind his order deported the elected mayor of Nablus, he did. Mayor Bassem Shaka had merely suggested, privately, that terrorist incidents would go on as long as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank goes on. Who doubts it?
Israel offers the rescission as proof of its commitment to the Egyptian-Israeli talks on Palestinian autonomy, which so far have bombed. There is no good reason to doubt Israel's commitment to those talks -- part of the price it agreed to pay for making peace with Egypt. But the content of the autonomy that the Begin government has in mind strikes Palestinians as so narrow and unpromising that none of them has, joined the talks. Theoretically, the stature gained by Mayor Shaka in the deportation crisi could let him join now without fear of being labeled an Uncle Tom. In fact, the crisis appears to have strengthened West Bank (and even Gaza) Palestinians in their resistance to the Israeli occupation and to an autonomy scheme that they regard as merely an extension of it.
The Palestinians, both those in the occupied territories and the PLO types in Beirut, exult that the Shaka affair dooms the Camp David process. As usual, they are accepting a paper triumph as real. They have embarrassed Menachem Begin, but they are no closer to self-determination. For that they need to break decisively free from the PLO's consistent refusal to accept Israel's right to exist. There are politically significant Israelis ready to deal with Palestinians, even the PLO, who will deal with them on a mutually self-respecting basis. But the Palestinians keep kicking those Israelis in the teeth -- not just by terror but by refusing to meet Israeli "doves" halfway.
These are not great days for the Camp David process, in its Palestinian aspect; in its Egyptian-Israeli aspect it's doing just fine. That suggests to some people that Jimmy Carter should abandon Camp David. That's bad advice. Camp David is the only mideast game going. For Jimmy Carter to appear to abandon it would raise the question of why any Middle East party would want to follow him down another road. On the Israeli side, at least, there is great internal agitation. The Begin government is under heavy fire for not using the Camp David framework to Israel's maximum advantage, and the government could yet fall. On the Palestinian side, little such agitation is evident. The United States is wise to keep the Camp David process going in hope that both sides will see their overwhelming interest in making better use of it.