Ever since President Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem a year ago, Egypt has gone through repeated [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Euphoria and gloom, hope and despair about the chances of making peace with Israel.
This week, the Egyptians are on the downward slope again. With negotiations apparently stalled over the issue of linkage with the future of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, talk of a ceremonial signing of a treaty on Nov. 19, the anniversary of Sadat's trip, has been supplanted by new complaints of Israeli intransigence and speculation about a suspension of the Washington talks.
But there is no atmosphere of crisis, as there was when Sadat pulled his negotiators out of talks in Jerusalem last January. Sadat has again reaffirmed his commitment to concluding a treaty, and that commitment would not be diminished by a negotiating ploy such as suspending the negotiations, observers here say.
What appears to be happening is that Sadat, who is resolutely opposed to a straight bilateral peace with Israel, is jockeying for better terms on the Palestinion issue by showing the Israelis, and the Americans, that what has been offered so far is not good enough. He is also sending to his Arab critics the message that he is standing up for the Palestinians by being firm on the linkage issue.
Sadat told a Kuwaiti newspaper that it might be necessary to break off the talks for a while because the Israelis had not yet accepted the principle that peace between them and Egypt must be tied to the implementation of the Palestinian autonomy agreement reached at Camp David.
"Egypt and Israel may not reach agreement," he said, "because we are after an overall settlement, not a separate peace." But he also said that if the talks were broken off, they would soon resume.
Only 10 days ago, Sadat was on the verge of bringing his negotiating team home from Washington in protest against an Israeli decision to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He yielded then to a request from President Carter to keep the talks going, fortifying his image as a friend of the American president who is being reasonable and concilatory in the face of unfriendly acts by the Israelis. Something of a similar situation is being created now, with Egyptian officials saying it is again up to the Americans to keep the negotiations on the track.
One of Sadat's negotiators was quoted by the official Middle East News Agency as saying direct Egypt-Israel talks would only be resumed if the Israelis came up with a better offer on the linkage issue.
"We shall consider holding a new meeting with the Israelis if their cabinet's reaction proves to be positive," he said. The Israeli cabinet is to meet in special session next week to review the status of the negotiations.
Six weeks ago, when Egypt was still in the warm glow of the Camp David agreements, officials here were saying that peace was virtually wrapped up, a matter of a week or two of negotiations over details.
Now there is a new official line, enunciated by Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil after a meeting with Sadat and members of the negotiating team last Sunday. It is that Egypt is not in a hurry, time is less important than the substance of the treaty and Egypt is not going to be stampeded by artificial deadlines - like the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony Dec. 10 - into retreating from its principles on the Palestine question.
Egyptian sources are now saying it might be a month, it might be more, before a treaty can be signed. With Egypt now virtually shut down for an Islamic holiday and the Israeli Cabinet scheduled to review the talks with their negotiators next week, it seems unlikely that the symbolic target date, Nov. 19, can be met.
But six weeks remain in the three-month period specified at Camp David for the conclusion of a treaty, and the Egyptians say they are content to wait while the United States argues with Israel about the fate of the occupied West Bank.
"The Israelis don't want to have it on the 19th," said an Egyptian who discussed the situation with Sadat two days ago. "That would give too much credit to the Egyptians by honoring his trip to Jerusalem. But it goes beyond that. Israel still has not accepted the principle of linkage. All right, we are not in any hurry."
The Egpytians have complained that the Israelis, in their public statements, have sought to put as favorable an interpretation as possible on the Camp David agreements. But Sadat has been doing a bit of the same thing himself.
In the interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasah, he said Carter shared his view that the arrangements worked out at Camp David for the return of the Sinai to Egyptian control could be applied to the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control.
That is an interpretation aimed at enticing other Arabs into accepting the Camp David agreements and joining the peace talks, but it seems calculated to upset the Israelis, who have not committed themselves to any Golan pullback.
That, too however, is a negotiating gambit, aimed at emphasizing the comprehensive peace settlement Sadat seeks. Like many of his public statements on this process, it cannot be taken at face value, observers here say, especially since the Golan Heights are not an issue in the talks between Egpyt and Israel and were not even mentioned in the Camp David agreements.
Egyptian officials and informed Western observers here agree that the key sentence in Sadat's Kuwaiti interview was, "I am determined to continue the talks until we reach final agreements."
Sadat has made it clear that he is not going to accept a peace treaty that is altogether devoid of language committing the Israelis to carry out the Camp David formula for Palestinian autonomy.
But Sadat is also a realist, who has pursued peace with Israel for years at great risk to himself and his country. Those who know him say he proved in his response to the Arab summit in Baghdad last lweek that he has come too far to turn back now, and that a momentary stall in the negotiations does not mean an end to the process.