As President Carter's efforts to bring about a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt draw toward what seems an ensured outcome, it becomes apparent that anxieties at the beginning of his trip were exaggerated. The gnawing unease of the first days, fostered by the media and to some extent by the president himself, served to enhance the sense of drama in the risk of failure and in the eventful triumph -- a repeat performance of the dramatic last days of Camp David I.
But while the public agonized with media commentators over the grave risks the president was taking, there were some observers, including knowledgeable government officials, who were not quite convinced. Indeed, they saw the risk not in the failure but in the success of the president's attempt to get an Egyptian-Israeli treaty signed.
It is worth considering this skeptical view of President Carter's words and actions. Is a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli treaty, instead of promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, likely to increase regional instability and prepare the ground for renewed conflict? Carter's professed objective remains a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East crisis, which he himself has acknowledged (in the words of the Brookings Institution Report on the Middle East, drawn up in 1975 in part by his national security adviser) stems from the Palestine problem. But American policy has moved from emphasis on a comprehensive settlement requiring a homeland to solve the Palestinian problem (President Carter in Clinton, Mass., in February 1977) to proclamation of the separate agreement between Egypt and Israel (Camp David, September 1978). The president last week nevertheless insisted that the administration was still determined -- after the signing of the treaty -- to push for a comprehensive solution, including a solution of the Plestine problem.
Oservers are skeptical about the president's capacity to achieve the larger goal of a comprehensive settlement, especially after having invested so much in securing what is presumably only the first step toward it.Quite simply, it is highly unlikely that he can afford to spend this kind of time and effort or to risk so much politically when the 1980 election looms on the horizon.
In the Middle East, practically all the important states have been alienacted by American policy, including our traditional friends. King Hussein, taking the long view of things, has decided to throw his lot with the Arab front formed at the Baghdad summit last year, and Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it regards its own security and interests more in terms of a settlement that provides a just solution of the Palestine problem and of Jerusalem than in American promises to intervene militarily in case of "pro-Soviet" threats. All the Arab states, including the "radical" ones, while rejecting the Camp Daid agreements, have accepted the principle of settlement based on Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967, recognition of the Palestinians' right to self-determination, and guarantees of security for all the states in the region.
The Carter administration, riveted as it is to the Camp David perspective, cannot or will not seize this opportunity, which has presented itself for the first time in 30 years.
Before he left for Egypt, Carter wrote letters to King Hussein and King Khalid requesting their support in achieving a comprehensive settlement after the signing of the treaty. It is unlikely that such support will be forthcoming. In their eyes, as in the eyes of most of the countries of the region, Carter has lost much of his credibility, ironically as a result of, rather than in spite of, his success in getting the Egyptian-Israeli treaty all but signed. While the president's integrity and good will may not be questioned by America's Arab frinends, faith in the president's capacity to act in accordance with his promises to achieve a comprehensive settlement has been greatly shaken.