Negotiations to start Thursday in Washington on a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel must be linked to long-range Israeli commitments on the future of the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, according to members of the Egyptian delegation.
The Egyptians say they expect to return with the text of a treaty in hand, perhaps within three weeks, and they foresee no major obstacles. But they also say they will insist that implementation of the treaty be linked to future developments on the Palestinian question.
Officials admit there is no such linkage to be found in the text of the Camp David agreements but they say it was accepted by all the participants - Egypt, Israel and the United States.
Acting Foreign Minister Boutros Ghali has said that the best hope for resolution of the Palestinian issue on the West Bank and in Gaza lies not in the limited pressure Egypt can exert, once. It signs the expected peace treaty, but in a continuing role to be played by the United States.
In a recent interview, Ghali said President Carter induced President Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David accords by assuring him that the United States would "take care of the loopholes" in the text. Egyptian officials now say that the first test of American intentions is the U.S.-Israeli dispute over the duration of a moratorium on Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin says it is only for the three months of the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. Carter says it is for the five-year period of transition to Palestinian self-rule.
Osma Baz, first undersecretary at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and a key member of the Egyptian delegation, said that "in the absence of Israeli agreement to the American interpretation, it would be very difficult" for Egypt to go ahead with the peace treaty. But, he said, "America has a certain responsibility in this respect, and all indications are that it will not shirk that responsibility."
Baz described the linkage of the Palestinian issue with upcoming peace treaty negotiations as a matter of parralelism and synchronization."
This is contrary to the Israeli position that the negotiations are to concern only the terms of the bilateral treaty. For the Egyptians, this difference of interpretation is crucial. They see their own positions as key to Egyptian standing among other Arabs and to Egypt's credibility as a negotiator for all the Arabs.
Israel's cooperation on this issue will be a test of its good faith, say the Egyptians.
Baz said the Washington talks would take up four areas of discussion: a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Sinai, steps to be taken in the direction of "normal relations," more details on security arrangements and guarantees, and "means of achieving some progress on the West Bank and Gaza."
Matters such as Egyptian claims to compensation for oil extracted from the Sinai during the 11 years of Israeli occupation would be left for a claims commission to settle in the future, he said.
"We are determined to have a certain link," Baz said in a conversation with American reporters. "The nature of it has not yet been determined." In the Camp David texts, he said, "there is no legal commitment and nothing specific about the precise nature of this parallelism and synchronization. But the concept of a link between the Egyptian-Israeli treaty and a comprehensive settlements was included in Camp David and no one can deny it."
Ghali, the acting foreign minister, said in an interview in the weekly magazine October that during negotiations on the bilateral treaty, "Egypt expects that there will be parallel negotiations concerning the West Bank and Gaza to discuss termination of the Israeli military government and to prepare the Palestinian authority to do its work during the [five-year] interim period. There will also be parallelism on the implementation."
This is an important point for the Egyptians because in their view, the Camp David agreements leave open the alarming possibility that Israel could take its treaty with Egypt and not come through with subsequent acceptable arrangements on the Palestinian issue.