CAMP DAVID is stumbling now: everyone recognizes that. The process delivered a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, but that very achievement created expectations for an equally quick and miraculous breakthrough in the equation between Israel and the Palestinians, and these have not been fulfilled. Among many of the would-be participants in the Camp David process, including Jordan's King Hussein, who is to be in Washington this week, the sense arises that the process is at a dead end and that it cannot be revived even if Menachem Begin, widely regarded now as the villain of the piece, is succeeded within the next year or so by a more compromise-minded Labor Party government.
This is the context in which West Europe has been approaching the Middle East in the last few months in an exercise that came to a culmination of sorts the other day. The Europeans truly felt, or so they claimed, that they were rising above their oil anxieties and doing a service for an indifferently led American administration and for the general requirement of peace. They even felt -- not without reason -- that they had been encouraged to reach out toward the PLO by an administration too involved in an election to make the effort itself. This is Europe's rationale for adjusting in the ways that it now has to the cause of Palestinian self-determination and to the PLO itself.
What the Europeans have done, nonetheless, is wrong. To the Palestinians they offer something by way of political recognition -- true, not everything the PLO wanted. But from the Palestinians they ask nothing. They state their own formal preference, for instance, for the right of all countries to live within recognized borders, but they do not ask the Palestinians to grant such a right as a condition for Europe's readiness to deal with them. In brief, there is a quid but no quo. Moreover, on the question of Israel's security, the Europeans coyly suggest that "the necessary guarantees" will be provided by the United Nations Security Council, a body that Israelis have excellent reason to distrust.
This is the point -- that progress can come only by a negotiation that offers something substantial to both sides -- that surely King Hussein understands. He is evidently here to remind Americans in his customary facile way that he is still available for dealing on the West Bank. His Arab friends are paying the king well in political support and economic subsidies to stay out of Camp David, and it would be startling if he were to throw in with that process just at the point when Mr. Begin's embarrassment was at a peak. But it would be equally startling if the supple Hussein were not alert to future possibilites of working within an American-sponsored Mideast peace framework -- not to put too fine a point on it: after Begin.
Yes, Camp David is an imperfect instrument, and it takes a certain leap into the future to keep confidence in it. But at the same time it takes a grip on common sense. It takes an understanding that progress is hard, slow and irregular and that it will come best in a context where the risks that the Israelis are asked to take are minimized and where the gains that the Palestinians are offered are paid for in solid political coin. The Europeans seem to have missed the point. A large part of the prospect for the future depends on King Hussein's keeping it in mind.