Events in the Middle East are now moving into a zone of rich possibility. Present Anwar Sadat of Egypt is practically asking to be put under pressure to resume talks with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin is under intense pressure to be more forthcoming in his dealing with Egypt. So the Carter administration is now edging toward the idea of appointing a special negotiator of the highest prestige and caliber - another Kissinger, if not Kissinger himself.
The present juncture derives directly from the visit made by President Sadat to Jerusalem last fall. As a condition for further Egyptian-Israeli negotiations, Sadat later demanded that Begin accede in advance to the principle of immediate and total withdrawal from all Arab lands. When Begin refused, Sadat, last January, broke off the negotiations.
Ever since, the Egyptian leader has been in a bad box. He has made no progress diplomatically. Meanwhile Arab leaders, and some of his own followers, have been taking pot shots at him, charging that he made the trip to Jerusalem and got nothing in return.
Recently Sadat has shown in several ways that he wants out of the box. He had told many visitors, notably Vice President Walter Mondale, that he understood the Israeli security problem and would be willing to accept an interim and partial Israeli military presence in such sensitive areas as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan.
Presumably to cover himself against Arab criticism of more concessions, Sadat has coupled the softening of position with energetic meddling in Israeli politics. He himself met with the leader of Israel's Labor Party opposition, Shimon Peres, in Vienna three weeks ago. A couple of days later he received Begin's chief rival in the Cabinet, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman.
He then permitted his foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel, to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan at a session in Britain headed by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. But as soon as Kamel reported back, Sadat, in a speech last Saturday, declared that the "only obstacle" to settlement was Begin.
This meddling has stimulated bitter feeling in Israel. The Labor Party has accused Begin of obstructionism and put about rumors questioning both his physical and mental health. Begin has denounced "gutter politics."
Presumably Begin authorized the Weizman visit to Sadat as a means of defending himself against the opposition. But Begin first postponed a Cabinet hearing of a report from Weizman on his meeting with Sadat. Begin and the Cabinet then rejected a proposal put by Sadat through Weizman that, as a sign of good faith before resuming talks, Israel yield back to Egypt two bits of territory: al Arish in the Gaza Strip and Mount Sinai. "Nobody can get anything for nothing," Begin said of the Cabinet decision.
In fact the diplomatic situation seems to be far more promising than the latest exchanges suggest. Sadat wants to resume talks and needs some excuse to justify their renewal to his Arab critics. Begin is obviously under heavy pressure to make the moves required to get negotiations going before it is too late for Sadat.
There lies the logic of a prestigious American negotiator. The right one would seem to be twisting Sadat's arm - thereby giving the Egyptian president the reason he needs to resume talks. The right one would also keep the pressure on Begin. But who is the right one?
Most of the obvious candidates - that is, former secretaries of state and former U.N. ambassadors - have said things that make them unacceptable. Lesser figures within the State Department, or recently returned from it, lack the clout.
Vance himself would make an ideal mediator. Perhaps the situation is so ripe that he can tie up a deal on his forthcoming visit. But the secretary of state has so much on his plate that he cannot long afford to shuttle between Egypt and Israel, and that same reasoning applies to another possible candidate, Walter Mondale.
There remains Kissinger himself. He enjoys the confidence of both Israelis and Egyptians, and knows the issues and all the personalities very well. While he is deep into his memoirs now, it is hard to see how he could resist a call from the president.
The difficulty is that by reaching for the former secretary of state, the Carter administration might seem to be confessing another failure to a world already prone to believe the president cannot cope. So the question is whether the president would not in the end gain far more by showing that he was able to rise above personal and political considerations to an act of high statemanship.