IT IS A MARVELOUS thing that has been done at Camp David. For the first time in a 30-year conflict that has repeatedly brought the region to war, a "framework" for peace has been found. The agreement can fail; it does not enforce itself. It does not address every aspect of every sub-problem. But it signifies an unprecedented commitment by Israel and its most powerful Arab antagonist, Egypt, to a specific written diplomatic plan for peace. If it is not the "best" agreement, measured against an abstract standard, it is the best available agreement, the only one the two sides found they could agree on: the only one in 30 years they have agreed on that addresses the heart of the problem in a comprehensive way. Measured against a past of unceasing pain and strife and against the likely future alternative of gross instability and perhaps further war, it is a remarkable achievement.
The new "framework" provides a detailed program, complete with timetable, for the Egyptian-Israeli peace that has been available to the two countries ever since President Anwar Sadat swooped down upon Jerusalem 10 months ago. The Israeli parliament must still agree to yeild up Israeli settlements in Sinai; it is inconceivable to us that Knesset will not do its part. The Israelis will get the new neighborly relationship with Egypt they have craved, plus the strategic and psychological advantages that flow from conciliating one's most dangerous foe. For Egypt, Anwar Sadat has won the immense prize of the return of all of his war-lost territory. Egypt, too, will be relieved of the threat of a continuing state of hostility, with all that means in terms of diverted resources and misplaced priorities.
What made it possible to reach for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was, of course, the parallel agreement on the West Bank (and Gaza). To protect his pan-Arab flank, President Sadat had to be left in a position to claim that he has launched West Bank Palestinians on a process bound to end in a set period of time (five years) in Palestinian self-determination. On his part, Prime Minister Begin had to be able to show that in the West Bank process he has joined, Israel's interests will be served.
Already, we note, it is being suggested that somehow Anwar Sadat "lost" the summit by not ensuring that every "i" was dotted and every "t" crossed on the West Bank. Yet that ignores that at this stage in the diplomacy and emotion of the Middle East, wisdom unquestionably lay not in trying to draft a blue-print - a mission sure to fail - but in setting up a process by which the interested parties would work out their own new relationship. This is President Sadat's summit achievement: Just as he is clearing the Israelis entirely out of Sinai, he is opening the way for the release of their hold on the West Bank.
Prime Minister Begin, by yielding the certainties of war-won borders for the uncertainties of new ties with neighbors that Israel does not fully trust, believes he is taking a great risk for peace, and so he is. President Sadat does not have to be told that he is incurring severe political risks by accepting an agreement that leaves Syria, many Palestinians and various Arab radicals calling him a traitor. Yet the two leaders have, we believe, shown themselves to be men of genuine vision. They have had the imagination and political courage to go beyond the passions and counter-claims that have so often brought their countries to war. They deserve full support as they strive to put into effect the decisions reached at Camp David.
It was in truth Jimmy Carter's conference. We salute him: He did a beautiful piece of work. He saw possibilities that few others saw, took risks that he did not have to take and set a model of disinterested dedication that let him call for concessions that were simply unforeseen. There will be a richly earned boost to his presidency and to the stature of the United States in the world. We do not mean to denigrate those things by saying that they pale next to the prosepct of peace in the Middle East.