A peace treaty between Egypt and Israel must include "at least" an Israeli commitment to pull out of the Gaza Strip and return it to Egyptian administration, President Anwar Sadot reportedly told Egyptian politicians yesterday.
The occupied West Bank of the Jordan, which was thought to be the main focus of Egyptian demands for a link between a peace treaty and the future of the Arab lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 war is a separate matter. Sadat said. But "if the treaty is not linked to Gaza at least, then it will not be acceptable to us," he said.
An Egyptian who is personally close to Sadat and who attended the meeting said Sadat's comments could be summarized as, "at least let it be Gaza, and not the West Bank, for the tence that an Egyptian-Israeli treaty time being."
If Sadat is prepared to drop his insibe tied to a timteable for the establishment of Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank and limit his demands to Gaza, it would represent a softening of his position on what has become the most serious obstacle to the conclusion of a treaty. It could become the basis for a compromise between the Egyptian demands for a link more specific than was included in the Camp David agreements and Israeli reluctance to go beyond bilateral issues with Egypt. But Sadat has not yet stated his position publicly.
His remarks about Gaza yesterday were made at a closed meeting of members of his National Democratic party in Ismailia and reported later by party members who took notes and made tape recordings.
Sadat held his second meeting in two days with U.S. AMbassador Hermann Ellts. Later, he told reporters that he was sending his vice president, Hosni Mobarak, to Washington to convey Egypt's position to President Carter adn take part in the stalled peace negotiations there.
Sadat said he was "amazed" at reports Monday that he had decided to pull his delegation out of the Washington talks and suspend the negotiations. But sources close to him insisted that he had tentatively reached that point before his meeting with Eilts on Monday, and he acknowledged that "we had reached the previous day a turning point" in the troubled search for peace.
(George Sherman, a State Department press officer acting as spokesman for the peace talks, said he had seen the report of Sadat's remarks but could not comment on it.
(Sherman did note that the report apparently was based on second-hand accounts and added that it would be premature to try to speculate on what the report might mean until Mobarak talks with Carter.
(Other U.S. officials privately expressed puzzlement about the report and aid they lacked sufficient information to comment on it. Some of the sources said that the comments attributed to Sadat seemed unlikely, and they added that it might turn out that he had been misquoted or misinterpreted).
The Gaza Strip, 100-square-mile silver of land on the Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Israel, was part of Palestine under the British mandate.
It was occupied by Egypt in the 1948 Arab-Israel war, and administered by Egypt until Israel took it along with the rest of the Sinai and the West Bank in 1967. Egypt never attempted to annex it or assert aiclaim of sovereignty. With some 400,000 Palestinian residents, Gaza has been seen by almost all the Arabs as part of an eventual Palestinian state or entity to becformed of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Sadat's promise to the Palestinians has been that he would end Israeli rule over them and create a framework in which they could then negotiate their own eventual status.
Return of the Gaza Strip to Egyptian administration would accomplish that in Gaza, and leave Sadat in a position to say that if the Palestinians in the West Bank want the same benefit from the Camp David agreements, they should take up the offer of engotiations that those agreements contain.
The initial reaction of the other Arab leaders would probably to be criticize Sadat further on the grounds that his peace campaign has led to a bilateral treaty with Israel and left the West Bank and Golan Heights still occupied. His counter argument would be that he has at least set up conditions in which it is possible to negotiate with Israel about those territories, while he ended Israeli occupation over big chunks of Arab land.
"In 1967, they took Sinai and Gaza from us," Sadat was quoted as telling the party meeting yesterday, "and it is a must that Gaza must return with Sinai so that it may be a beginning for a comprehensive and just settlement."
He told them, "I will not leave Gaza, it is ours. The West Bank is Palestine's problem. We want peace, and the vice president will explain this to Mr. Carter."
It is not certain that Israel would accept Sadat's demand that the Israelis pull-out of the Gaza Strip is parallel to their withdrawal from the Sinai, leaving the crowded territory in an uncertain legal status that could possiable make it once again a base for terrorist attacks on Israel.
Israel committee itself at Camp David to returning the Sinai, which it recognized as part of Egypt, but only to undertaking negotiations about the future status of the Gaza Strip.