Relations between close friends should not be impaired because of a misunderstanding. And when countries take freely the decision to be strategic friends, this is a course they are committed to and not a tactic that is subject to sudden and temporary winds.

It is in this context that I see Egyptian-American relations. They have been considered an example of relations between a superpower and a small power. Egypt -- the Arab, African, non-aligned, Third World country -- is small in comparison with the United States, yet it is a leader in its region and in the movements I refer to. Determined to go to war to liberate its land, and first to go to peace as the only rational way to solve programs, Egypt has never hesitated to help humanity when in need. It thus pained me to see my country and my president taken to task and called names in the past few days.

Egypt could have closed its ports to the Achille Lauro and shut its eyes to the ordeal of the innocent passengers held hostage, even though such action may have entailed the ship's remaining at the mercy of jumpy and unstable hijackers, who may have killed one passenger after another. Yet Egypt went out of its way to ensure the safety of 500 innocent men, women and children -- and got hardly a word of thanks, except a postscript.

President Hosni Mubarak had been assured by the ship's captain that all on board were safe. He had no reason to doubt him. There was no need to further delay the agony of the hostages. With this in mind, I believe that Mubarak gave his instructions to hand over the hijackers to the Palestine Liberation Organization in Cairo or in Tunis. It was also obvious that Yasser Arafat as going to bring them to trial and punish them. He said so publicly on U.S. television, and there is every reason to believe he so assured Egypt that that would be his course.

In this, Mubarak was on the same wavelength as President Reagan. In his spontaneous reaction to reporters, Reagan had seen no problem so long as the PLO offered state-like procedures of justice. True, he retracted his statement, but on a technicality: his aides did not want any action of the U.S. president to provide a semblance of recognition of the PLO -- at least, not yet. But Reagan's gut feeling and Mubarak's action were identical.

Let us not also forget that Mubarak does not want any actions against Israel to emanate from his land. This is why he did not want to take in any Palestinians as they left Beirut three years ago, even though the United States was urging him to do so. Just think if he had accepted them then and Israel had bombed Egypt, not Tunis. Where would peace be now? And what would the United States have done? You could see Mubarak last week following his same instinct.

When Mubarak answered reporters' questions regarding the whereabouts of the hijackers, he did not lie. He conveyed what he must have had as information at that moment.

Terrorism should be wiped out, whether committed by individuals or by states. Self-defense is not the right of one people that is denied to others. Those who are killed in the occupied West Bank or Gaza, those who have been maimed, as were the mayors in the West Bank, and those who have had their homes blown up: they, too, have a right to self-defense, as well as to self- determination.

It is obvious that Israel wants Yasser Arafat dead -- if not physically, then politically. The air raid on Tunis is the proof. Israeli intelligence learned that Arafat would be attending the meeting there, and they went to bomb it. His unexpected absence saved his life. If Arafat talks peace, he is called a liar, besides being called a terrorist. Peace cannot be born in hatred. Live and let live is the only workable formula. Understanding, hearing and talking to each other -- that's the only way. Israelis, Egyptians and Americans know this very well, and with it they succeeded. When Israel bombed Tunis, a U.S. ally, killing 60 innocent Tunisian men, women and children, did it ask itself if this could push Muammar Qaddafi to seek a further Soviet presence in Libya? Is that what Israel wants? Would that help the United States reach better understanding with the Soviet Union in Geneva?

Recent events prove again that if peace does not move forward, it slides backward. Those against peace in Israel, in the Arab world or elsewhere will not lie still. King Hussein brought a logical, workable formula to the United States in March, and he reconfirmed it in his last trip to Washington. Prime Minister Shimon Peres has less than a year to go before he delivers the reins of power to the Likud hard-liner, Yitzhak Shamir. One can either sit in the back seat and react to events, good or bad, or one can move behind the wheel to reach the destination of peace and prosperity. There is no need to waste further precious time. Will the United States assume the leadership role that its friends in the area call on it to play? So I pray.

With an emotional week behind us, especically for Egypt and the United States, we should go back to the common bond of friendship, understanding and pushing peace forward.