President Anwar Sadat overrode objections from his own advisers about flaws and ambiguities in the Camp David accords and signed them because President Carter promised him the United States would work to ensure their implementation, authoritative Egyptian sources say.
The Egyptian delegates were concerned less about the general outline of the agreements, which represent the most Egypt could realistically expect and the least it could accept, than about the failure to pin down Israel on such crucial issues as sovereignty over the West Bank of the Jordan.
Carter allayed Sadat's doubts by assuring him that the United States would remain involved in future negotiations aimed at resolving those matters, Egyptian officials say, and Sadat's faith in Carter is such that he accepted a deal the Egyptians admit is less than perfect.
"Sadat would never have signed those accords on the basis of just an agreement with Israel," a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said, "but Carter told him. 'Don't worry, we will take care of the loopholes.'"
Egyptians officials confirm Sadat's assertion that there were no secret agreements at Camp David. But they say Sadat has a personal commitment from Carter that the Egyptians believe will prevent Israel from taking advantage of the accords' ambiguities or shelving the West Bank talks once an Egypt-Israel peace treaty is signed.
Although Foreign Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Kamel resigned during the Camp David talks, the prevaling view among Egyptian officials and experienced Western diplomats here is that the Camp David accords, if carried out, represent a remarkable achievement for Sadat. Even members of the Egyptian negotiating team who are less than satisfied with some of the details recognize that the agreements come close to meeting Egypt's terms for peace.
Sadat went into the Camp David talks in a position of extreme weakness - "completely naked," a European diplomat put it. He was under pressure from other Arabs to abandon his peace initiative, which was going nowhere, and he had no credible alternative strategy. If he had come up empty-handed, he would have been humiliated personally and his country would have faced the threat of another war, a war it would almost certainly lose.
Under the circumstances, Egyptian and Western sources say, it was hardly surprising that he accepted the Camp David formulas. What was surprising was that Sadat was able to extract as many concessions as he did from the Israelis while coming close to achieveing what have always been his own real minimum objectives.
"I'd be a liar if I said it was a very good agreement," one of the Egyptian negotiators said, "but it's not bad. In negotiations, you have to be realistic."
He and others agreed that Sadat's position at Camp David was analogous to that of Egypt during the 1973 war with Israel - after several days it became apparent that there was no more to be gained, so Sadat accepted what he had achieved and looked to future negotiations for more.
Egypt was criticized by other Arabs for accepting a cease-fire in 1973, and it is being criticized now for signing the Camp David agreements. There is abundant evidence, however, that just as Sadat never expected to push the Israelis all the way out of the Sinai when his troops crossed the Suez Canal in 1973, he did not actually expect to get what he was publicly demanding in the peace negotiations.
As far back as January, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official told American reporters in a background briefing that Egypt would settle for restoration of its sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula and a commitment in principle from Israel to withdraw completely from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the future.
Egyptian officials say that in the contacts with Israel that followed Sadat's trip to Jerusalem last November. Egypt never sought creation of a fully independent Palestinian state, never insisted that Israel accept the Palestine Liberation Organization as representative of the palestinians, and was willing to leave the questions of sovereignty over the West Bank and the political future of its people to future negotiations.
At Camp David, the Egyptians did not get an unequivocal Israeli commitment to a total withdrawal from the West Bank. They got a partial withdrawal and a redeployment of the rest into agreed-upon security areas. Few here believe Sadat could have gotten more on this crucial point.
On the other issues, they argue, the accords nearly coincide with what Egypt expected to achieve.
Israel accepted a formula for Palestinian self-government that these Egyptians say goes far beyond the limited administrative autonomy in a 26-point plan Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin submitted at the Ismailia peace talks last Christmas. The Israelis also accepted a negotiating framework that does not specifically exclude representatives of the PLO.
Regarding the Sinai, Egypt's success was nearly total. In December, Begin told the Knesset that in any treaty with Egypt, "Israeli settlements will remain where there are. These settlements will be linked to Israeli administration and law. They will be defended by an Israeli military force. I repeat this sentence for reasons known to every member of the house: They will be defended by an Israeli military force."
Camp David laid all that to rest, assuming as the Egyptians do that the Knesset will vote to remove the settlements.
The question of which side yielded more at Camp David may never be resolved. The Egyptians made crucial concessions on the future of the West Bank. Even so, it is clear here that the agreements were acceptable to Sadat because they gave him, or at least made attainable, what he has long wanted - peace with Israel in a package that would make it possible for the other Arabs to negotiate similar agreements for themselves if they want to.
Sadat, who says he alone of all Arab leaders heeded "the cries of the Arab women" of the West Bank, wanted to lift the Israeli military government from the people of the West Bank and Gaza. He has brought that within reach.
He wanted a de facto alliance with the United States and a peace agreement that would keep the Soviet Union out of the negotiating process. Camp David gave him that, too.
And he wanted to move quickly. He is personally committed to bringing peace to Egypt after 30 years of war and, as one Egyptian offical put it, to free Egypt from "being a hostage to the other Arabs."
With every month that went by after his trip to Jerusalem, the disenchantment of Egypt's economic backers in Saudi Arabia increased, Sadat's own political position weakened and the threat of violence grew.
The Saudis are still unhappy, but the Egyptians express confidence that they will soon fall into line, at least tacitly, because Egypt has shown that only Sadat's way brings any concessions from Israel.