The establishment of peace between Israel and Egypt has left Israel's other Arab neighbors and the Palestinians frustrated, bitter and deeply aggrieved by the policies of the United States.
Far from jumping on the peace bandwagon of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, as he hoped they would, they are united in their opposition and apparently sincere in their conviction that the treaty was a major U.S. policy error.
More than a month after the treaty was signed, nothing has happened to justify the Egyptian faith that the other Arabs would cool off and accept a fait accompli after a predictable round of fussing. Yet, there is evidence that the United States is regarded with increasing enmity and suspicion for what it has done and that Washington underestimated Arab determination to resist the treaty.
Jordan, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization are completely unpersuaded by Egypt's insistence that the treaty is actually the first step to a comprehensive regional agreement that would settle the Palestinian question.
The argument that they should seize this opportunity because they might not get another has left them cold because they do not see the treaty as an opportunity. They see it as an unalloyed triumph for Israel that cut Egypt off from the Arab camp and left the Israelis free to pursue expansionist aims - a view reinforced by the spectacle of the first Israeli ship passing through the Suez Canal after a reaffirmation of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and a week of Israeli bombing and shelling in southern Lebanon.
In Cairo and Washington it may be difficult to understand why the Arabs on Israel's eastern flank should so firmly reject an agreement that ends Israel's occupation of some Arab lands, commits the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians, and sets a limit on at least one side to Israel's territorial claims.
Yet the Arabs say that Israel gave up nothing that it was not prepared to yield and secured peace with its most powerful foe without committing itself to Palestinian self-determination. They appear to have no faith in President Carter's promise to pursue autonomy for the Palestinians, especially as an election year approaches. Moreover, they have greeted the appointment of Robert Strauss as coordinator of the automy negotiations with disbelief and ridicule.
According to Arab officials, scholars, diplomats and journalists here, in Damascus and in Amman, there is no possibility of credible Palestinian participation in the autonomy negotiations scheduled to begin this month. The Palestinians, these sources say, are not going to take part because that would ratify a negotiating framework in which their minimum demands are exclude in advance.
Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian officials all stressed that they do not oppose peace with Israel. On the contrary, they said, virtually all the Arabs have resigned themselves to it in principle. Yet they see the Egyptian-Israeli treaty and the Camp David autonomy framework as an inadequate basis for peace and a long retreat from what they thought the United States was seeking, based on frequent American calls for a settlement of the Palestinian question "in all its aspects."
In Jordan, the resentful tone set more than a month ago by King Hussein when he accused Washington of "asking people to acquiesce in or support a totally unacceptable solution" still prevails.
"The treaty confirmed our worst suspicions," said one of the king's closest advisers. "When the treaty was signed, in an undignified way with a lot of buffoonery, it became obvious that this was a separate peace. We want the U.S. to throw its weight behind a comprehensive peace and understand that the Camp David formula is inadequate, but there is a fundamental conceptual difference between us and the American."
That "Conceptual difference," another prominent Jordanian said, is that "in the nuts-and-bolts American approach to the negotiations, everything is negotiable but that also means everything is subject to concession. For us there are some things not subject to concession."
Ahmad Lozi, a former Jordanian prime minister who is now president of the consultative council that replaced the dissolved parliament, said, "I, as an Arab citizen, and every Arab would welcome peace on the conditions Sadat himself stated when he spoke to the Knesset [Israel's Parliament]. We accepted the Sadat initiative, but what did it get for the Palestinians?"
He and other Jordanians agreed with the editorial in the Jordan Times scorning Strauss as a "millionaire Jewish lawyer and Democratic Party war horse" whose appointment proves that the autonomy negotiations will not product anything the Palestinians can accept.
"Americans," Lozi said, "We, the moderate Arabs, are with you. Don't lose us. The fact that we are against what Sadat has done doesn't mean we are against you. But there has to be a minimum for the Palestinians and you can do it."
In his May Day speech today, Hussein obliquely renewed his criticism of the Americans, saying that "the national Jordanian stand was disliked by greedy outside powers and misguided powers in our Arab world, so they launched campaigns to weaken this national stand."
The Jordanians are pressing for new negotiations outside the Camp David framework, but the Syrians say they would be useless as long as the Americans are committed to the peace treaty.
"We believe the possibility of political movement toward peace is blocked now," Information Minister Ahmed Iskander Ahmed said in Damascus. "The power imbalance favors Israel, and Israel is becoming more belligerent and stubborn. The Arabs have lost their trust in the U.S., and we believe peace is further away than ever before."
He said that "American behavior has left a feeling of anger, even hatred, among the Arab masses. It's difficult to remove those feelings in the short run."
Diplomats in Damascus say the Syrians fear Israel will take advantage of peace with Egypt to attack its opponents on the eastern front, a fear shared by the Jordanians. It may seem farfetched, but in this region it seems to be considered a serious possibility in view of Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon last year.
"Once Egypt is in the bag," said Lebanese Christian political leader Dory Chamoun, "is Israel just going to leave Syria alone as a catalyst for the extremists, or is Israel going to bop Syria on the head and put an end to it? Syria is going to get clobbered, and it should, because it's the source of all the trouble in the Arab world."
Chamoun's comments reflect Lebanese Christian anger over Syria's military occupation of Lebanon and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking, but in the current atmosphere they only reinforce Syrian and Jordanian suspicion of what the treaty really portends.
Khaled Fahoum, chairman of the Palestine National Council, a Palestinian parliament in exile, said the treaty "put America's closest friends, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in a position where they can't defend American policy because it only leaves Israel stronger than ever."
He said that ever since the 1973 war, a worldwide consensus had developed on the question of Middle East peace, that says it should be a comprehensive peace ensuring Palestinian self-determination and that the United States had abandoned formulas it had previously espoused.
For the Palestinians, he said, "a comprehensive peace is essential, because if each country goes its own way we are the last ones to get anything at all."