THE BILLING OF DOVES is not about to become the dominant sound in Egypt and Israel now that a peace treaty between them is ready to be signed. That much is clear. The sounds will be much more strident and sometimes, no doubt, even warlike. This is true for at least two reasons. One is that the treaty, though it holds the marvelous promise of ending the cycle of Mideast wars, simultaneously commits the two countries to negotiate the Palestinian question, truly a rending one. The other is that the treaty forces each country, in its efforts to win and hold support for its new relationship among important constituencies, to speak of it in ways calculated to drive the other up the wall.
A week ago, for instance, Egypt's prime minister, Mustafa Khalil, responding to the fierce attacks that many other Arabs have made on the treaty, asserted as incontrovertible fact an interpretation of the treaty that is Egypt's alone. Though Israel fought hard to avoid specific commitments on these issues, Mr. Khalil said the treaty anticipated complete withdrawal from territory won in 1967, the inclusion of East Jerusalem in the West Bank territory meant to be returned, and the evolution of Palestinian self-rule into independent statehood. Coming as this did while he was attempting to placate his parliament's anxieties on precisely these points, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin responded with a defiant assertion of Israel's own one-sided interpretation. This was kerosene thrown on the fire of Egyptian anger. At that moment the atmosphere for the treaty signing could hardly have seemed worse.
In fact, it is no surprise that two countries, whose principal form of "dialogue" for 30 years has been war, do not know how to talk to each other. The discussion that produced the treaty had to be conducted through an interlocutor, the United States. In neither Egypt nor Israel has there yet developed an adequate appreciation of what words spoken in one nation's context sound like in the other's. One could say that Egypt and Israel are not the only pair of countries sharing this multiple-audience problem, but for them it is acute because they have committed themselves to an immediate negotiation in which it will be exacerbated as never before.
In the coming period, it will no longer be possible to avoid the crucial trade-off of Camp David: Clarity and agreement were reached on the issues of the Sinai by accepting, for the time being, ambiguity and disagreement on the issues of the West Bank. It was not by drafting a blueprint that the latter issues were meant to be approached but by setting up a process in which, if all goes well, clarity and agreement can be achieved over a period of time. That process, the negotiation on setting up the autonomy, is to start in a month's time.
Consider the prospect. Under the treaty's terms, Israel is to withdraw deep into Sinai in nine months, the two countries are to exchange ambassadors a month after that, and they are to wrap up the autonomy negotiation two months after that. But the Palestinian negotiation is bound to be, at best, slow and painful. Will Israel and Egypt do their parts on Sinai withdrawal and ambassadorial exchange if stalemate or failure looms? The United States will be heading into the thick of a presidential campaign -- not the optimum time for American flexibility on Mideast issues. Both those whose strategy is to bring down Camp David and those who wish to protect the process agree that the real crisis, the Everest to make past crises look like foothills, peaks a year from now.
That is the passage Egyptians and Israelis must begin to plan for in their diplomacy and their politics. Needless to say, most of the burden falls on the Israelis, since on the Palestinian question the fundamental accommodations needed to prompt and match whatever steps come from Palestinians can only be made by them. Yet the way the Egyptians bargain for the Palestinians, to the extent that they can, will have an undeniable significance. Nothing will be more important than how they address each other. The sound of peace, one hopes, will be that of Israelis and Arabs, quietly talking.