A tral balloon floated by a Cairo newspaper today presages an embarrassing and potentially nasty squabble over the Middle East issue at next month's summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity.
Al Ahram, Cairo's leading daily, reported that Egypt is consulting several African countries about establishing an all-African military force to take over the truce supervision in the Sinai if the mandate of the United Nations forces there is not renewed.
Whether the idea is practical, it indicates that Egypt is preparing a strong bid for black African support at the OAU summit in Monrovia Liberia, anticipating that other Arab OAU members will attempt to suspend or censure Cairo because of its peace treaty with Israel.
According to Al Ahram, Egypt will argue that the peace treaty ended foreign occupation of some African territory - that is, Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula - and therefore deserves the support of black African leaders. Egypt is still smarting over its exclusion from last month's Islamic foreign ministers' conference in Morocco. It is working hard to shore up its position in the OAU and the nonalighed movement, which meets later this year in Havana, to ward off further censure over the treaty.
The treaty proposes that troops of the U.N. emergency force continue to patrol the buffer area between Egyptian and Israeli zones of the Sinai during the remaining three years before Israeli withdrawal is to be completed.
The mandate of the 4,000-man U.N. force comes up for renewal at the Security Council in July. Egypt, Israel and the United States are considering what to do in case the Soviet Union, which opposes the treaty, vetos the renewal resolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has strongly denied reports that Washington was considering sending American troops to do the job. More likely, in the opinion of diplomats here, is the creation of a multinational force outside U.N. auspices. Al Ahram's report about the African force was a new suggestion, and it is not clear whether the Israelis have been consulted about it.
The U.N. troops in the Sinai took no part in last month's return of the town of El Arish to Egyptian control. It was handled peacefully by Egyptian and Israeli troops. The atmoshpere was so relaxed that it is questionable whether any outside buffer force is needed, but since the treaty calls for one, attempts to set it up continue.
The various possibilities are expected to be on the agenda when Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan comes here Monday for talks on enacting the treaty and establishing normal relations between Egypt and Israel. Both Egypt and Israel might score useful diplomatic points if an African peacekeeping force were created, or if at least some black African countries were induced to participate in a multilateral force outside U.N. jurisdiction. Ghana has troops in the Sinai, but they are there as part of the U.N. force, which implies no political judgment about the merits of the peace treaty.
Many black African countries used to have good relations with Israel, but almost all broke their ties after the 1973 Middle East war.
Some, such as Kenya, broke relations reluctantly, under pressure from African radicals and from the North African Arabs. Others acted in the hope of receiving financial aid from the Arab oil states. As a group, the Africans routinely have censured Israel and have supported the Arab-Plastinian side of the Middle East question.
There is no longer a single Arab-Palestinian side. Egypt has signed a peace treaty that is strongly condemned and rejected by Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, but Cairo has the support of the Sudan and Somalia and has indicted its willingness to reward as best it can those African states with which it remains on good terms.
Egypt is signaling the black Africans that they can have its help in their struggles over Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Namibia if they support the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.