Quickly following the predictable deadlock between Egypt and Israel over Arab Palestine, a compromise is being cooked up by President Carter for hard selling on his trip abroad a compromise demanding greater concessions than Israel has yet been willing to offer.
The essence of the compromise: Hold forth to more than 1 million Palestinian Arabs the prospect of gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops and a nearly independent state with voluntary political and military links to Jordan.
This plan appeals to the Israelis by freezing the Palestine Liberation Organization completely out of the action. Besides that, it looks to a future - perhaps five years - when the security of Israel's eastern border with the autonomous Palestinian state would be under control of a United Nations contingent (containing no Americans or Russians) plus small units or Jordanian and Israeli forces. Thereafter, assuming a successful experiment of living side by side along an open border, Israeli security forces would be entirely removed - the unappealing part of Israel.
Carter has been little more than a spectator since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his electrifying journey to Jerusalem on Nov. 19. But he has been brought back into the center of play because of the Ismailia deadlock between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin. What worries the President and his advisers is that the sudden end of spectacular diplomatic breakthroughs will give too much time for building political resistance of any further compromise - particularly in Israel.
That danger of regression to intransigence seems real, so much so that some prominent Jewish leaders here are worried. "Any endeavor inside Israel to shoot down Prime Minister Begin's peace efforts to viewed with enthusiam in American, "Rabbi Alexander Schindler told us. As chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he is usually listened to by Israeli politicians.
What particularly disturbs Schindler and other Jewish leaders here is that politicians from Israel's Labor party who always have been decidedly more dovish than Regin are starting to denounce the prime minister of selling out Israel. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is a classic example.
When Begin was here briefing Carter on his solution for the West Bank, he told the President he was confident his plan for "self-rule" would be acceptable to his hard-line Likud coalition. But the vote of confidence Begin won so handily in the Israeli parliament was based on a West Bank plan easy to swallow compared with the minimum Carter feels must be offered Sadat.
The problem is to keep negotiations moving fast enough to prevent an outbreak of political warfare in Israel that might gradually corrode the popularity Begin has amassed since his election.
Partly in the interest of promoting speed, and partly to explain the U.S. position, the President has decided to send Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to Jerusalem in mid-January, when Israel and Egypt start West Bank political talks. Vance's real mission: to persuade Israel that Sadat's offer to genuine peace for Israel deserves a larger Israeli concession on the West Bank than mere "self-rule," with no loftier expectation.
If this effort succeeds (about a 50-50 prospect), Sadat would then be in a strong position to justify his one-man diplomacy with Israel. He could claim that he had pulled Israel further along the road to a fair settlement on the West Bank than any Arab leader dreamed possible before Nov. 19. That would free Sadat to pursue an Israeli-Egyptian peace that will return to Egypt almost every square foot of land lost in the 1967 Six Day War.
But if the effort fails to persuade the Israelis, and they decide they cannot afford to sweeten Begin's "self-rule" offer to the Palestinian Arabs, Sadat will face the ominous possibility of isolation. The ignominious prospect of unending Israeli military occupation of the West Bank makes Begin's plan fall short - perhaps for short - of accept ability both to the Palestian Arabs and to such moderate leaders as Jordan's King Hussein or Saudi Arabia's King Khalid. The "rejectionist" Arab world is already screaming for Sadat's head.
Accordingly, the plan now being cooked up by Carter seems essential to preserve Sadat's credibility as a peace-seeker - and to stop the Middle East from yet another descent into war.