Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, in a demonstration of growing Egyptian and Israeli interdependence amid their rejectionist Arab neighbors, today offered to pipe fresh water from the Nile River across the Sinai Peninsula to the Negev Desert.
At the same time, Sadat unleashed a bitter attack on the rejectionist Arab nations, calling Egypt an "island of peace" surrounded by instability. He challenged, "Let's see what the Arabs can do without Egypt, and what Egypt can do without the Arabs."
Ending a three-day visit to this Mediterranean port city that saw relations between Egypt and Israel advanced significantly, but in which little discernible progress was made toward Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza Strip, Sadat told a group of Israeli newspaper editors:
"We have cemented our agreements in Camp David and the threaty between Egypt and Israel and we are ready together, Menachem Begin and me, to face whatever comes."
As if seeking to underline the growing reliance of the two former enemies, Sadat presented what approached being a formal offer to pipe Egyptian water to Israel as soon as a Suez Canal tunnel is finished next year.
"After the tunnel is completed, I'm planning to bring the sweet Nile water -- this is the sweetest of the four big rivers of the whole world -- to Sinai.
"Well, why not send you some of this sweet water to the Negev Desert as good neighbors . . . ?Well, Sinai is on the border with the Negev. Why not? Lots of possibilities, lots of hope," the Egyptian leader said.
But his mood became almost combative when asked about Egypt's ability to withstand the pressures of the rest of the Arab world.
"What is this other camp?" Sadat asked rhetorically. And then, in a reference to the revolutionary tribunals that have executed a number of alleged plotters against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, declared with unmistakable contempt:
"There is a plot there in Iraq and he has to remove his president [Ahmed Hassan Bakr] and kill his very intimate friends and see them by himself shot. Saddam Hussein.
"In Syria, the situation is deteriorating . . . Everything is deteriorating, especially after the Lebanese fiasco," Sadat said, noting with seeming sympathy Israel's shared border with Syria.
"What is happening between Morocco, Algeria, Libya, what is happening there on the gulf, what is taking place there in Saudi Arabia even, [where] the king left for Switzerland and they talk about some changes there?" Sadat asked.
"In the middle of this, you find Egypt, the island of peace, the island of love, the island of democracy . . . Let me see what the Arabs can do without Egypt, and what Egypt can do without the Arabs," Sadat said.
His comments were less remarkable for their tone -- such antipathy has been building for a long time -- than for where they were said, before a group of Israeli journalists.
Nonetheless, Sadat persisted with the optimism he has displayed throughout his eighth summit with Begin, saying, "I think this situation will be cleared by the end of the year."
On several occasions here, Sadat has said he believes Jordan's King Hussein will join the peace process and that the issue of Palestinian autonomy will be resolved by the end of May -- the treaty deadline for holding self-governing elections.
But there was little evidence that Begin and Sadat reached any substantive agreements on the principles of autonomy, and Sadat seemed to acknowledge this in a speech upon his departure.
Describing the Haifa talks in standard diplomatic terms such as "constructive," Sadat added, "We were both aware of the vital necessity to make progress on the Palestinian question soon. We are determined to pursue this goal . . . "
Sadat also said earlier in the day that he attached considerable importance to agreements reached on bilateral issues, such as an Egyptian-Israeli joint peacekeeping force in the Sinai to replace the U.N. Emergency Force, whose mandate lapsed under threat of a Soviet veto. Begin and Sadat also agreed on Egyptian sale of Sinai oil to Israel, and on an early turnover of the St. Catherine's monastery in the Sinai.