In the first flush of euphoria following the signing of the Camp David peace agreement in Washington, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat embraced in the spirit of peace, today was envisioned as a momentous date-the signing of a treaty between the two most powerful foes in the Middle East.
Amid the congratulatory speeches and back-thumping in the East Room of the White House on Sept. 7, Begin turned to "my friend" Sadat and alluded to the three-month target date for signing a peace pact.
"Tonight, at this celebration of this great historic moment, let us promise each other we shall do it earlier," he said, and the functionaries around them basked in the warmth of the moment and applauded heartily. President Carter, the architect of the summit, was the man of the hour, and Begin suggested that the Camp David meeting be renamed the "Jimmy Carter Conference."
Instead of celebrating peace today, however, Israelis, Egyptians and Americans found themselves caught up in a spirit of a far different sort-one of acrimony, recrimination, defensiveness, ill-temper and gloom.
Just weeks ago on the threshold of signing a treaty, when Nov. 17 seemed like a fitting date because it was the first anniversary of Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, Israel and Egypt gave the world the impression that the major unresolved issue was whether the pact would be signed on Mount Sinai or in Cairo.
Now, Israel's foreign minister is suggesting, for the first time in the long, tortuous negotiating process, that a treaty may not be signed after all. A senior U.S. official accused the Israeli cabinet of "misleading" statements, and the Israeli government responded by accusing the Carter administration of "one-sidedness" and issued an expression of "serious protest and anger."
Privately, some Israeli leaders even said they saw in the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China a move to intensify American rapprochement with the Arab world. Israeli newspaper today editorialized that the same fate that befell Taiwan may await Israel.
Amid the finger-pointing and hyperbole, some calmer voices in Israel are asking: "What went wrong?" and "How can the peace momentum be revived?"
The answer to the first question seems rooted in part in honest misunderstanding, partly in deep-seated mistrust between two historic enemies, but mostly in enormous misjudgments by Egypt and Israel of each other's expectations and minimum needs.
Israel's misjudgment, by all appearances, revolves around whether Egypt ever was prepared to sign a separate peace treaty that didi not explicitly take into account a resolution of the problem of self-determination of Palestinians on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.
Egypt's misjudgment, conversely, appears to have been whether Israel ever intended to sign a peace treaty that made interdependent a resolution of the West Bank-Gaza Strip problem and Egypt's fulfillment of the terms of peace-all exchange of ambassadors, open borders, free trade, Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal and other requisities of normal relations.
The problem all along has been how to draft a separate peace treaty with a link to the Paleztinian issues that would be visible to Sadat's Arab critics but acceptable to Begin's Israeli ones.
So far, the challenge has proved to be insurmountable.
The negotiations broke down, as expected by some observers, because of the "linkage" provisions.
According to the Israeli view, the essence of the Camp David agreement was that Egypt and Israel would sign a peace treaty, Israel would withdraw its armed forces and civilian settlements from the Sinai Peninsula, and both sides would agree todisagree on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip while putting off a final resolution of that dispute for five years.
If Egypt ever did subscribe to that expectationm the Arab League conference in Baghdad on Nov. 10 and its aftermath of Arab pressures on Sadat removed any such inclination.
The compromise draft treaty that the United States presented to Egypt and Israel in mid-November, and which Israel accepted formally on Nov. 21, turned out to be unpalatable to Sadat by the time U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance arrived in Cairo last week hoping to pin down the final details of a peace treaty.
Sadat presented five proposals-which the United States endorsed-some of which explicity linked certain provisions of the Eguptian-Israeli pact to a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue.
Under Israel's interpretation, the demands contained in proposed side letters to the treaty, would: make an exchange of ambassadors conditional upon the implementation of Palestinian autonomy; provide a "review" of Sinai Peninsula security arrangements after five years; set a "target date" for the start of autonomy at least in the Gaza Strip, and dilute somewhat a clause assuring that the treaty would supersede mutual defense pacts between Egypt and other Arab states.
In a lengthy, detailed analysis of the Egyptian demands offered to reporters today in a background briefing, a senior Israeli official sought to show how most of the demands make Egypt's fullfillment of the bilateral treaty conditional on future actions by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Israel does not control the Jordanian government or the political attitudes of the Palestinians. We don't see how you can make this bilateral treaty conditional upon elements we don't contorl," he said.
The official added, "This would mean that after the [Sinai] withdrawal, nothing would prevent the Egyptians from stating that since there is no comprehensive settlement on the West Bank or Gaza Strip, then Egypt does not have to fulfill its obligations of this treaty. This is why Israel cannot accept these provisions."
As for the December 1979 "target date" for Palestinian autonomy sought by Egypt, the official said, "it brings new language we never saw before. It does establish total linkage between the two treaties."
Harry Horowitz, Begin's adviser on overseas information, put it another way. Referring to President Carter's anger over the failure to meet today's goal for signing a treaty, Horowitz said:
"What was Dec. 17? It was a target date. It was a goal to strive for, and yet with the best will of the world presumably on both sides, it was not possible to reach agreement."
Horowitz charged the United States with "overplaying their hand. They have adopted the role of accuser and judge and have assumed the right to assess and apportion blame with regard to the negotiating process."
While Begin, Dayan and other top Israeli officials today continued to express confidence that negotiation with Egypt could be resumed, there was a consensus in the government that a "cooling occ" period is necessary, followed by small working group discussions withou the participation of the United States.
Meanwhile, Israel began making plans for an extensive public opinion program in the United States to convince Congress, the American Jewish community and the public that the label of intransigence should not rest on Israel.
"I don't think the negotiations are dead. I donht even know if they are seriously wounded. But new problems were raised four days ago, and in order to get it started again, I think the Egyptian authorities will have to reconsider their attitude," said a senior Israeli official. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Israeli Prime Minister Begin works in his office on day treaty was to be signed. AP; Picture 2, Egypt's President Sadat kisses a grandson at his Nile villa north of Cairo. AP