Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has taken the occasion of a long religious holiday to visit the towns and villages along the Suez Canal. Praying, politicking and planning for technomic development after peace, he shows no sign of depression or panic about the troubled course of the negotiations in Washington.
Unlike Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who faced a difficult meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance yesterday and then was flying home to more heated debate in his Cabinet about Egyptian terms for peace, Sadat appeared to be under no pressure as he tended to routine domestic business.
Although Cairo newspapers reported yesterday that the Washington talks are in a "critical stage" and "threatened with collapse," it appeared here that events were unfolding in a way not altogether unsatisfactory to Sadat.
He says he is convinced that a peace treaty with Israel is inevitable. Both sides have committed themselves too far to turn back now. That being the case, Sadat is facing the snag in the negotiations with equanimity.
He said last week that the talks might have to be broken off for a while, but if they were they would resume within a month at Israel's request. He has instructed his negotiators not to be hurried by the approach of artificial deadlines, such as the Nov. 19 anniversary of Sadat's trip to Jerusalem.
At the Camp David summit conference, Sadat succeeded at what he saw as the essential step toward reaching a peace agreement an acceptable terms - he drew President Carter into the negotiations as a "full partner." In the view of observers here, events since then, despite some anxious moments, have show that Sadat's strategy is paying dividends.
It appears to the Egyptians that the Americans clearly have pressured Israel, siding with Egypt on the issue of expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Atab territories.
On the crucial question of the linkage between an Egypt-Israel treaty and the development of Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories, Sadat's own speech writer might have turned out Carter's statement that "one of the premises of the Camp David negotiations was a comprehensive peace settlement, and that includes not just an isolated peace treaty between Israel and Egypt but includes a solution for the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights."
That statement does not commit the United States to the Egyptian insistence that this linkage and a timetable for implementing it be spelled out in the treaty but is seen here as evidence that Carter is making good on the promise Egypt says he made at Camp David to see that the accords are implemented.
Sadat said last week that after peace is established he would ask Carter for a $15 billion "Marshall Plan" to help rebuild Egypt. But he did not make that aid a condition of peace. On the contrary, he said Egypt was committed to peace even without aid from the United States, or other Arabs.
Egyptians see the Israelis as being in the embarrassing position of insisting that the United States help them pay for the dismantling of civilian settlements in the Sinai that the Carter administration believes were illegal in the first place.
Egypt has sought to portray Israel as waffling about peace and raising new conditions. The decision of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to award the prize jointly to Sadat and Begin may have helped the Egyptian President by increasing the pressure on Begin to come to terms and drop what are seen here as subsidiary issues, such as access to oil in the Sinai Peninsula after the wells are returned to Egypt.
Egyptian officials say they understand that no peace treaty reached in the Washington talks will be embraced by the other Arab leaders, who condemned it in advance at their summit conference in Baghdad last week.
But Sadat is maneuvering himself into a position where he can claim that he obtained the best deal possible for the Palestinians, and at the same time showed his commitment to peace by defying the condemnation of the other Arabs. Their condemnation has not deterred him, nor have they been able to devise any effective action against him.
In the early stage of his peace initiative almost a year ago, Sadat said any agreement he reached with Israel would be submitted to an Arab summit conference for approval. There is no more talk of that, and Sadat is resigned to going it alone. But it is important for him to be able to claim that if the Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians reap no benefit from what he has done, it is their fault, not his. For that reason, he has to hold out for the most specific "linkage" he can get.
The Cairo newspaper Al Ahram, in a report that appeared to have been officially inspired, said yesterday that U.S. roving ambassador Alfred Atherton had intervened in the Washington talks, offering "a number of proposals and alternatives" aimed at breaking the deadlock on the linkage issue.
Egypt, the report said, had not offered any new proposals on its own because the Egyptian position was already clear, well-defined and unyielding.