JIMMY CARTER RESCUED the Camp David process from virtually certain collapse on Sunday and if he does produce an Ebgyptian-Israeli peace treaty soon, it will not be for any stinting of effort or prestige. Having offered Israel an agreed American-Egyptian draft which Israel rejected as a "sham," Mr. Carter altered some parts of it enough to win Mr. Begin's and his cabinet's quick approval for further negotiations.Specifically, he seems to have eased Israeli misgivings that under a treaty Egypt could still give priority in a war crisis to its old obligations to Arab allies. He may also have dangled sweeteners having to do with defense cooperation and aid. The president then mooted the pesky question of the level of Israeli-Egyptian representation at talks in Washington by deciding to go himself to Cairo and Jerusalem to discuss "the peace process, regional security and bilateral issues."

The immediate question, of course, is what the Egyptian reaction will be. On the face of it, it appears that Mr. Carter, rather than take Menachem Begin's no for an answer, moved away from the previously agreed Egyptian-Israeli position and shifted the burden of fresh decision upon Anwar Sadat. We surmise, however, that by meeting Israeli objections that Egypt could put its Arab commitments ahead of a treaty with Israel, Mr. Carter won a more sympathetic Israeli response to Egypt's need to move ahead expeditiously on negotiations for Palestinian selfrule. It is possible, too, that Mr. Carter has in mind some substantial sweeteners for Egypt by way of economic aid, military cooperation or both. We note that Egypt's prime minister gave as his "personal" assessment last night that the proposals accepted by the Israeli cabinet are acceptable to Egypt as well.

For those who, like ourselves, believe a Mideast peace is worth a full measure of presidential striving, there can be no caviling at the gamble Mr. Carter is taking -- if he has carefully thought his way to the end of the road. We say this realizing that he is putting at risk the nation's prestige and credibility, not merely his own -- as though any presidential act were purely personal. By this investment, however, he enhances his bargaining power in his dealings with Israel and Egypt. Plainly, President Carter is giving peace in the Mideast his very best effort. So, too, must Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat. We do not doubt that they are.