ANWAR SADAR, President of Egypt, no longer holds that Israel is an "abnormal" presence without a due place in the Middle East sun. He is ready for an Arab sort of peace - a formal acceptance of Israel's existence, if not its right to exist. As he indicated clearly on his visit in Washington, he knows that this is remote from the Israeli sort of peace - full, normal, confidence-building contacts - that Mr. Carter believes to be the appropriate quid for the quo of returning Arab territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. In its place he offers two considerations: first, the implicit spectacle of his ouster by a less moderate leader if further political concessions are demanded of him; and second, the explicit adoption of a policy of acting as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet (and Cuban) influence in the Mideast the role, deeply ironic for an Egyptian, that he is claiming now.
Much is appealing in President Sadat's plea. No one familiar with the Mideast can fail to respect the distance he has come, or the courage it took to make the journey. The mutters of his generals, watching him break off with one arms supplier in Moscow before firming up ties with another in Washington, are almost audible. The discontent of the Egyptian masses is a plain and perilous political fact Mr. Sadat has striven heronically to make the Palestine Liberation Organization into a presentable negotiating partner. It is not hard to imagine his disappointment that the recent PLO congress in Cairo produced results that the Israelis distributed widely in Washington to prove their point that the PLO is unfit compaby at any future Geneva conference on the Mideast.
Yet the Sadat formula - first the Arabs should get back their land and set up a Palestinian state, then the Arabs may consider giving Israel recognition, contacts, commerce, etc. - is simply unacceptable. Mr. Carter, we understand, so indicated to Mr. Sadat. This formula would remove Israel's best cards before it had achieved its legitimate political and diplomatic objectives. It would also leave the Mideast in much the same unstable condition that has already generated four wars.
The Sadat formula is, in fact, fully as unacceptable and dangerous as the Rabin formula, as the Israeli government position could formula, as the Israeli government position could have been described until the shocking but necessary withdrawal of his election candidacy yesterday due to a personal financial scandal. Israel demands its sort of peace but offers in return a good bit less than complete withdrawal from the occupied territories. That approach would strip the Arabs of their best cards before they had achieved their territorial objectives. That Mr. Sadat, like Mr. Rabin and almost any conceivable successor to him, is politically weak does not let either side off the hook.
The best course remains, we are convinced, the Carter formula: a phased withdrawal from virtually all territory taken in 1967 in return for piecemeal steps toward full peace, with a Palestinian "home-land" established along the way, and the end result agreed to as a matter of principle in advance. We are not sanguine about the American capacity to move the Mideast parties in this direction, but we see no acceptable alternative to it.