Arab leaders opposed to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's direct dealing with Israel ended a four-day summit conference today by adopting a basically moderate platform freezing relations with Cairo and establishing a "unified front" to thwart a feared Egyptian-Israeli separate peace.
Following Syria's lead, Algeria, Libya, South Yemen and a suddenly reunited Palestinian guerrilla movement avoided taking tough practical measures that they thought might estrange the Egyptian people and Arab moderates they hope to win over.
More important, even the radical Palestinians dedicated to Israel's destruction went along with Syrian insistence that the door not be shut on peaceful Middle East peace negotiations, despite Sadat's got-it-alone diplomacy.
Such calculations were to much for the hardline Iraquis, who weakened the summit's impact by walking out early this morning, claiming Syria was imposing "surrender." The practical measures were mild in contrast to the final comminique's rhetorical condemnation of Sadat's Jerusalem visit as a "Zionist-imperialist conspiracy," "high tension," "betrayal," "flagrant violation" and an "endorsement of Israel."
Whether the rhetoric and mild practical measures will deter Sadat remains an open question, especially since the Tripoli conference may well strengthen his belief that the Arabs are unable to carry out effective policy decisions jointly.
The militant Arabs' communique advocated a "freeze" on diplomatic relations with Egypt but it was unclear precisely what that meant and, in any case, it was overtaken by Cairo's decision later today to serverities completely with them.
In Washington, a State Department official said that "freezing" relations has no specific meaning in international diplomacy. "We're trying to find out what they mean by it," he said.
The communique also called for boycotting meetings of the Arab League, which is headquartered in Cairo, and urged removal of the headquarters to another Arab capital.
Since most of the 18 other member countries of the Arab League are conservative, this demand stood little chance of early adoption.
The militants threatened to punishment of any Egyptians who eventually may do business with Israel in violation of the Arab Leaugue boycott.
Syria clearly emerged as the dominant force in the rump grouping largely because it was the only state represented here directly confronting Israel, now that Egypt has foresworn war.
Lebanon was not present and in any case is under what amounts to Syrian military occupation. The other confrontation state, Jordan, is also under strong Syrian influence.
The communique annointed Syria as the "main confrontation state and the main base of resistance" - a formulation scarely calculated to please Iraq, which walked out largely because of its rebuffed hopes of leading the anti-Sadat group.
All Arab nations and individuals were asked to provide "economic, financial, political and military assistance to support Syria and the PLO.
The communique asked donors to cut off support to Egypt, but since Cairo's traditional source of largesse has been conservative Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, the request was largely rhetoric.
The communique also reflected Syrian President Hafez Assad's position by failing to mention, much less condemn, the possibility of further Middle East peace negotiations.
It was this failing that Iraq seized upon to justify its refusal to join the newly created front. Observers were convinced that the real reason lay in almost a decade of bad blood between the rival Baath Party governments in power in Baghdad and Damascus.
The communique carefully omitted any criticism of Iraq, apparently to preserve whatever remaining chances exist for persuading Baghdad to join later.
In a news conference that Libyan officials tried to prevent reporters from attending, Jaha Jazrawi, leader of the Iraqi delegation, held out the possibility of holding another summit in about a month in Baghdad. Originally Iraq had wanted to hold a summit there this week.
Zuhair Mohsin, leader of the pro-Syrian Saiqa alestinian guerrilla organization, said he doubted that Iraq could be brought into the fold. He suggested further discussions were useless "unless they want to waste time with each other."
Bassam Abu Sharif, spokesman for the radical Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of alestine, held out hope that his longtime Iraqi protectors could work out their differences with Syria within a month or so, but even he accused Iraq "tactical blunders" in holding up the conference for four days.
Jazrawi said that Libyan host, Mammar Qaddafi had proposed an otherwise undefined compromise Sunday that Iraq had accepted and Syria rejected.
Asked if Iraq would send troops to to make up for Egypt's feared defection, he replied: "at the present time this is out - particularly a military policy unless the Syrians reject the policy of negotiations."
The Iraqi leader appeared skeptical, too, about the durability of the Palestinian reconciliation in which Yasser Arafat's PLO accepted the hardline theses of the minority "rejection front," which opposes any dealings with Israel.