Uncertainties trouble the Israeli mind. Will Egypt turn away from the ways of peace, now that it has regained all its territory? How will its relationship with Israel be affected by its desire to resume its central place in the Arab world? Surely, Israel cannot look askance at this aspiration as such. Would it not itself seize any opportunity to establish relations with any Arab country, as long as that country practiced normality in its relations with Israel?
The real question is, how will Egypt act in the community of Arab nations? Will it try to rally them for peace or submit to their belligerence? How firmly will Egypt resist Soviet endeavors to undermine the peace process? How much sustenance can Israel and Egypt expect from the United States?
These challenges will not be met by querulous disputations on the venue of future talks, nor by acerbic public debates where each side argues subsidiary points with the ardor of one defending holy writ. Nor will the American referee acquit himself of his charge by merely dispensing tranquilizers to the contestants, instead of applying firmly the Queensberry Rules.
The consolidation of the Israeli- Egyptian peace requires a climate of confidence. It will be promoted by the free flow of trade and tourism, traffic and transport, ideas and information, an exchange of know-how and a mutual realization of the dangers facing all states in the Middle East from the absence of peace and the extension of hostile external influences.
Conciliation, compromise and cooperation, the three C vitamins, are the best though least applied remedy to heal the still-open Arab-Israel conflict. If we approach the outstanding issues in the spirit and with the methods that governed the Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations, the stalemated Israeli-Jordanian- Palestinian complex may also yield to a rational settlement. The continuation of the prevailing situation will stiffen extremists and confound moderates.
The initiation of a meaningful negotiating process designed to meet the "legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," as recognized in the Camp David accords, and to reconcile their claim for self-determination with Israel's right of self-preservation is as vital for the Palestinians to enable them to safeguard their national, cultural and religious identity as it is for Israel to fulfill its Jewish vocation and remain true to its spiritual heritage and democratic tradition.
The PLO, trying to usurp not only the exclusive representation of the Palestinians but the whole of the country, cannot be a valid interlocutor. As long as the "L" in PLO stands in effect for Liquidation--of Israel--no sound- minded government can be expected to collaborate with it.
Now, after the completion of the exodus from Sinai, the signatories of the Camp David accords must prepare a new departure. They should invite the parties nominated in the accords-- Egypt, Israel, the United States, Jordan and Palestinian representatives from the West Bank and Gaza--to attend a round-table conference. It would be based on the provisions of the accords: the implementation of U.N. Resolution 242; the establishment of full autonomy and the redeployment of the Israeli forces charged with the maintenance of internal safety in the territories and the protection of Israel against external threats. The conference would consider such measures of self-rule as would enable the Palestinians to run their own affairs without endangering the security of Israel or preempting the decision on the final status of the territories.
All that the participants are called upon to do at this stage is to reach an agreement on the furnishing of the waiting room, to make it as comfortable and safe as possible, until the living room is designed and ready for occupancy, which in any event is not planned to take place before the termination of the five-year transition period.
Five years in the Middle East is a very long time. Elements obscure today will probably be clearer at the time the parties will have to determine their position on a final Israel-Palestinian-Jordanian peace settlement.
The Palestine problem, predominant as it is for those directly involved, is neither the centerpiece of the puzzle nor the key to its solution. Its belligerent or peaceful evolution is a function of the interplay between turmoil and tranquillity in the area as a whole.
The more stability prevailing in the region, the easier it will be to settle peacefully the contentious Arab-Israel issues. The way the parties will conduct themselves during the intervening five years of transition, the measure of restraint, consideration and sagacity they manifest, will determine not only the immediate human and political condition but also their future fortunes.