This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the brief but spectacular war in which Israel routed the armed forces of three neighboring Arab states and seized parts of their territory. It is not an occasion for celebration in the Arab world.
The war was followed by a decade of almost continual crisis, upheaval and violence - Black September, the war of attrition, the Munich Olympic massacre, the death of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, the 1973 war and oil embargo, shuttle diplomacy, civil war in Lebanon, riots on the West Bank.
It was a lifetime's worth of history in less than a generation and transformed the political atmosphere of the Middle East, but these events have not brought the Arabs what they want most: restoration of the land they lost in the six days of the 1967 conflict.
Now there is an atmosphere of anticipation in the major Arab capitals, a feeling that this impasse must soon be broken. With patience wearing thin, Arab leaders are in agreement that they cannot let another 10 years go by, that they must force the issue.
Seeing the United States as the only power that can succeed where they themselves have failed - forcing Israel into an acceptable settlement - the Arabs have been encouraged by President Carter's calls for an Israeli withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian homeland.
This accounts for the official policy of professing unconcern over the victory of the expansionist Likud bloc in the Israeli elections. The Arabs' diplomatic target is Washington, not Tel Aviv, and some optimists here are now hoping for an American estrangement from Israel.
But there is a deep undercurrent of pessimism among the Arabs about whether they can achieve their goal without a confrontation not only with Israel but also with the United States.
Prominent Arab leaders, including King Hussein of Jordan and Prince Saud Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, expect bitter, determined Israeli resistance to any attempts to force a return of the West Bank or the Golan Heights, and they doubt that any American administration would be willing or able to impose such a settlement.
Prince Saud has said it is even possible that the Israelis might respond to U.S. pressure by starting a new war, believing this would oblige the Americans to support Israel and give up their carefully nutured ties to the Arab countries.
On the West Bank of the Jordan, the restive Arab youths who have lived half their lives under Israeli military occupation are expected to mark the war anniversary with demonstrations. Here in Egypt, President Anwar Sadat has decided on a more optimistic observance.
He is going on a three-day tour of the Suez Canal region, commemorating the reopening of the waterway tow years ago. That event, by no coincidence, occurred on June 1, the eighth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1967 war in which the Israelis advanced all the way to the canal. They were pushed back by the Egyptians in the 1973 war and later retreated farther under the disengagement agreement negotiated by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, virtually the only captured territory that the Israelis have yielded.
From the Arab standpoint, Sadat's upbeat approach is certainly warranted by the dramatic improvement in their situation over the past year.
Pn the last June 5 anniversary, the Arab world was being torn apart by the civil war in Lebanon. A bitter feud between Egypt and Syria left those two nations incapable of putting any pressure on Israel.
All that was laid to rest in October at a summit conference in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. Since htne, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have been carrying out a sustained campaign to present themselves to the world, and especially to the United States, as responsible and moderate countries, willing to accept the existence of Israel, if only they get the occupied territories back.
Carter's statement that "all sides have to yield to some degree" holds little appeal for the Arabs because they see themselves as having already yielded as far as they can, so far that it entails political risk unless they begin to get some results.
In their view, they have committed themselves to recognize Israel and live in peace with the Jewish state, curbed the power of the Palestinians, isolated the Arab extremists, and behaved responsibly on the oil price issue.Sadat and Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia have also made it clear, without saying so, that they expect to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization into line on the question of recognizing Israel, provided that the Palestinians are allowed to set up their own state on the West Bank.
The PLO denies this, but at the Palestine National Council meeting in March, Palestinian leaders of all shades of opinion, except the diehard rejectionists, acknowledged privately that the power of Syrian guns and Saudi money left them little choice. What the Palestinians will not do, however, is what the Americans and the Israelis have asked them to do - recognize Israel in advance of a territorial settlement.
Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO's foreign policy sopkesman, told the Iraq nes agency last week that the territories occupied in 1967 "are only a part of the terriotry of Palestine," the implication being that they want it all. That is what the Iraqis like to hear, but the countries that matter is this dispute, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, say otherwise.
To say that these countries are prepared to recognize Israel and end their bellingerancy against it in exchange for a territorial settlement, however, is not to say that they bear the Jewish state any goodwill. Prince Saud spoke with obvious distaste when he said last month that the Israels keep asking for more and more concessions and "now thwy even want to shop in the Mouski," a celebrated market area in Cairo.
Many, perhaps most, Arabs believe that there are inherent contradictions in Israeli society and the country is constructed on a false premise so that eventually it will break apart without being pushed. But they are not interested in waiting around for that to happen.
What they want is for Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to bring something substantive when he returns to the Middle East, probably next month. In this context, that means specific proposals for reconvening the Geneva Middle East peace conference with the Palestinians in attendance.
It is well understood in the Arab capitals that iw ould be counterproductive to go to Geneva without commitment from all parties in advance to accept certain principles. To go to Geneva and fail, Arab analysts say, would be worse than not going at all. In the words of Egypt's foreign minister, ismail Fahmy, "the convening of the Geneva conference is not the important thing, because it only represents the framework. What we want is a formula to end the occupation of the Arab territories and to realize the establishment of the Palestinian state."
Cater is on record as wanting to reconvene the Geneva talks this year, but the Arabs will not want to participate unless this broad outline has been accepted in advance. In their view, it is only the details that are negotiable.
What is much less clear is how long the Arab states can or will wait for some U.S. response that satisfies them, or what they will do if they do not get it. Egypt has recently staged a series of elaborate, highly publicized military exercises, but few independent analysts here believe the Arabs have a credible military option.
That leaves the threat of an oil cutoff, but Prince Fahd has publicly committed himself not to use that. The Saudis value their complex network of economic and military relationships with the United Sates and would be reluctant to sever them.