President Anwar Sadat delivered a sharp personal attack on Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin today, saying Begin has always opposed peace with Egypt and wanted to keep the Middle East in turmoil so Israel could expand "from the Nile to the Euphrates."
Sadat revived the old Arab accusation of Israeli territorial ambition in an interview on Egyptian television marking his 60th birthday, which he celebrated at his native village in the Nile Delta.
In the interview, and in a Chistmas message to President Carter published in the Cairo press today. Sadat insisted that Egypt is determined to achieve a peace settlement. But his remarks dispelled any remaining doubt that the negotiations on a peace treaty have reached a real impasse.
Begin, after hearing a report from Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan on the latest Egyptian-Israeli contacts this weekend in Brussels, called a special Cabinet meeting for Tuesday in Jerusalem.
Sadat, however, left the clear impression that it may be some time before a treaty is signed. His remarks are likely to contribute to growing apprehension here that the entire peace process may now be revivable only by some dramatic move that cannot be envisioned at the moment.
"It was in Begin's interests," Sadat said, "that we return to the state of no war, no peace" that existed before Sadat's trip to Jerusalem last year. "They would have been the most suitable situation for him to achieve his goals."
Begin, Sadat said, faced a "terrible struggle" with himself after Sadat went to Jerusalem and offered peace to the Israelis because peace was incompatible with Begin's desire to build "a greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates."
But since the Camp David agreements, which Israel and Egypt signed in September, he said, "There is no going back to the state of no war, no peace. Camp David ended the fears of an explosion in the Middle East. What remains is a diplomatic give and take until we achieve peace, and I hope it will be achieved."
What Sadat was describing is the situation that has developed in the vacuum left by the failure of Egypt and Israel to agree on a treaty by the Dec. 17 target date set at Camp David.
Egypt has renounced war with Israel, a policy that appears irreversible at least so long as Sadat remains in power, so there is little likelihood of any outbreak of regional hostilities. That de facto peace is less than the two sides had in mind at Camp David, but Sadat seems determined no to sign a treaty as long as the Palestinian question is unresolved.
That is approximately the situation that prevailed on Christmas Day a year ago, when Sadat and Begin met at the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. There, a failure to agree on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip prevented them from adopting a mutual "declaration of principles" that would have been the basis for a treaty.
Sadat sent messages last week to the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other moderate Arab states renewing his pledge not to sign a peace treaty until he is satisfied with the arrangements for implementing the Palestinian autonomy envisioned in the Camp David agreements.
He personally and the Egyptians as a nation have long since gotten over their impatience for peace, and it now appears that Sadat is content to wait a while, leaving the Israelis to think over their position and the other Arabs to reconsider their condemnation of him.
In his interview today, he said that the failure of the other Arabs to support his peace efforts played into the hands of Begin, Perpetuating a conflict that Israel has used in the past to grab such chunks of Arab land as the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Still, he said, peace will be achieved eventually.
In his message to Carter, he pledged: "Our people, who stretched out their hand for peace in the belief that man has the right to live a peaceful life, will not abandon the peace process whatever the obstacle may be."
He said the Egyptians appreciate Carter's "positive and active role" in the peace negotiations and hope it will continue. According to Sadat, the Egyptians and the Americans are in full agreement about the peace proposals rejected when Secretary of State Cyrus Vance put them before the Israelis earlier this month. Sadat is hoping for a new move by Carter to bring the Israelis around.
The Associated Press reported from Tel Aviv:
The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil deepened differences between the two sides at the Brussels talks by offering to replace Israel's military administration of the occupied West Bank and Gaza with a "Palestinian government."
The term indicated a stronger self-governing authority than the autonomous local councils called for in the Camp David accords, Maariv said.