As the breathtaking events of the last week have so dramatically shown, anything can happen in the Middle East - with probably one exception: The odds are still heavily against the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River as part of any peace settlement.
That will happen, as all the major parties in the Knesset agree, only over Israel's dead body. Former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, who is regarded as less hawkish than his successor, Menahem Begin, has left no doubt that his country is united against such a Palestinian entity, especially one that would inevitably be dominated by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
When Rabin was in Washington just before Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, he was asked at a private meeting whether it was conceivable that Israel under any circumstances would yield to this Arab demand. Israel's parliament, he said, would be virtually unanimous against it.
That, of course, is not news to the politically sophisticated Sadat. Yet, with his eyes open, he still chose to go to Jerusalem on a peace mission that he, in fact, initiated, and which has had spectacular results that he also must have anticipated.
He has aroused a frenzy for peace in his own country; he has kissed Golda Meir and embraced Israel as a friendly neighbor; he has outlawed war and raised great expectations of a benign future in which Egyptians at last can concentrate on a better life instead of endless, disastrous fighting.
Sadat, in short, appears to have gone so far beyond the point of no return that it would seem he has no practicularly since there is little doubt that he can now get a separate, bilateral settlement with Israel that would satisfy Egypt's own interests.
Sadat, of course, continues to say that he is still dedicated to a comprehensive Middle East settlement that would be acceptable to Israel's other Arab neighbors, such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, plus the guerrilla-led PLO. But if, in the end, the Palestinian demands make a broad settlement impossible could Sadat afford to let the PLO and its backers veto his peace crusade and thus dash the hopes that have been awakened among millions of long-suffering Egyptians?
To do so would invite political suicide, which is why the PLO and the Syrians, among others, suspect that Sadat is prepared to make a separate peace if necessary. Hence, it is hardly surprising that some Arab voices are calling for the assasination of the Egyptian "traitor" or th overthrow of his government. So far, however, these attacks have only seemed to stiffen Sadat's resolve.
Despite Syrian predictions that Sadat was risking isolation, it begins to look as if Syria itself might end up in that position, with only passive support from an unfriendly Iraq and limited, remote support from Moscow. Empty sideline cheers from Libya and Algeria won't help much.
Actually, a separate Egyptian-Israeli agreement could well pave the way for a broader one. After the 1973 war, the Damascus government criticized Egypt for agreeing to a temporary disengagement plan, but later it followed suit on the Syrian front. In any case, all disinterested military experts agree with Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, that Syria, without Egypt, could not possibly oppose "the might of Israel." Much of the Syrian army is tied down in Lebanon, its border with Iraw is closed and its putative partner, Jordan, is weak and waivering.
In his speech to the Knesset, Sadat said "the Palestinian cause" is the "crux of the problem," yet it is not clear whether he would insist on a West Bank Palestine entirely independent of Jordan, which occupied the area prior to the 1967 war.
Given the responsive climate that presently prevails in Jerusalem, it is quite possible that Israel may advance some West Bank concessions that Sadat could swallow, even if they stick in the throat of the PLO, whose leader, Yasser Arafat, has said, "The goal of our struggle is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromise."
Although, since 1948, the Arabs have shed a lot of crocodile tears over the Palestinians, they did not establish in independent Palestinian nation on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when Arabs controlled those regions. So it is hard to believe now that if the president of Egypt finally has to choose between the greater glory of Sadat and the greater glory of Arafat, that it would be the latter.
"It's unfair," President Carter has said, "for the world to blame Israel for the plight of the Palestinians." And only two weeks ago, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, our greatest authority on the Middle East, said, "A Palestinian state on the West Bank is bound to be an element of instability both for Jordan and Israel. It will compound the crisis, not solve it."