A great deal of American frustration has resulted from our seeming inability to achieve a successful conclusion to the Isareli-Egyptian negotiations. Even as prominent members of the American Jewish community separated themselves from Begin's policies and as 22 percent of the Israelis were reported to favor peace on the basis of territorial compromise, U.S. government representatives conceded in late August that they could do nothing to move Israeli toward an accommodation. When the State Department recently announced Sol Linowitz's breakthrough in achieving concessions from Begin, the Arabs were not deceived. Begin's plan for West Bank settlements is intact and on schedule. Not moving his office to East Jerusalem is only a delay -- and it is due to prudence within the Israeli cabinet rather than to American intercession. Once again, the United States has done it with mirrors -- and with the sufference of Anwar Sadat.

American officials are, in fact, anxious for fear that Arabs will interpret our ineffectiveness as feigned inaction -- an indication of American hostility with all that could mean to our interests in the Middle East. Actually, the conclusion reached by many Arabs is much more subtle. They see us attempting to keep the whole situation up in the air with endless negotiations because we have the power neither to resolve the problem not to disengage ourselves from it. Our dependence is apparent. Our policy amounts to reliance on the idea of a calculated nonsettlement. We take a positive stance by using our international prestige to foster and then to dominate the negotiations between Isarael and Egypt. But not being able to move either side, we apportion remonstrations to Arabs and Israelis alike as if something were being accomplished in the process.

In highly qualified positions, U.S. spokesmen have said that the eight resolutions critical of Israel that the Security Council has accepted during the past six months contain much that is consistent with American policy. Yet the United States has abstained. One American official who preferred not to be identified (and who could blame him?) said that our position was made clear in March 1980 when the United States first supported and then disavowed a resolution on the West Bank. Actually, there was more truth (and less hilarity) in the statement than many critics of American policy realized. Only a policy of caculated nonsettlement could lead to such confusion and so many contradictions.

It is not just that the Arabs understand the source of American ambivalence. The more realistic among their ranks also recognize that on the matter of a Middle East settlement they are locked into along-range contest with the United States. The relationship between the two sides is so intricate that each is limited in its negotiation strategies to moves that the other can see a contributing to its own purposes.

The United States, for example, must show sufficient consideration for the Arabs' perception of an acceptable solution to the Middle East problem to leave the impression that if the Arabs, in turn act in complementary fasion, the United States will first reciprocate and then expand upon the consideration that it extended in the first place. This kind of diplomacy leads to (and ultimately relies upon) the grand gesture to which Sadat alludes frequently and which is so important to moving negotiations with Arabs. It is the antithesis of the "hard Bargain." In fact, whenever either side uses threats, it sparks a response that is incompatible with its own interests. And so the game continues, inconclusive but apparently unavoidable.

The real issue, then, is not between Israeli and Palestinian rights quite so much as between Arab and American power. Arab leaders say as much when they concede that only the United States can bring peace to the Middle East.

At the heart of the Arab-American relationship is an overpowering interdependence. Our dependence on their oil is complemented by their dependence on our technology. In this sense, technology conveys a broad range of human endeavors. We Americans have always seen our technology as being more than a vehicle for economic well-being. it also has a political dimension insofar as it conveyes a sense that is popular, powerful and progressive. Many Arabs identify these attributes with revolution, and in some Arab countries American-type technology seems to supplant the need for violent political change. Thus in the minds of many Arabs (particularly in the Gulf), stability at home is in some way linked to our presence, although this association has weakened of late. The United States has much to gain from the preservation of this Arab perception.

Such factors help keep the two sides within the bounds of "grand gesture diplomacy," even though much about our relationship is adversarial. Over the past seven years, each has modified its position on a Middle East settlement in order to maintain the Arab-American connection.

One of the aspects of policy that still ties Sadat to many Arabs is the Egyptian leader's dedication to this type of diplomacy. His conviction is all that has kept him in the American-sponsored negotiations with Israel. From the outset of Kissinger's diplomacy, Sadat labored hard to make the United States more than a mediator. We were to become a "partner" in the Middle East negotiations. The Camp David agreement confirmed this role, and now Sadat must accommodate the American initiative, even when it is pointless. It would be a mistake, therefore, to conclude that Sadat will not accept whatever stunted and inconsequential draft agreement Linowitz might have left behind in Cairo and Jerusalem. After all, the Egyptian's ploy is to ingratiate himself with American leaders.

Sometimes American officials behave as if they do not understand what Sadat is doing. Egypt's president still sees himself as carrying the Arab banner. His virtuoso performance makes other Arab leaders quite nervous because he constantly seems to be on the verge of abandoning those bonds that tie Arabs together. They fear that he will be trapped by his own strategy in the inextricable game he plays.

And what is that strategy? Essentially, he hopes to put the United States in a position in which Arab capabilities (but not Arab hostility) will compel us to give up the calculated nonsettlement. Grand gesture diplomacy ultimately has its costs. Sadat is convinced that some day we must consider the Arab's claims. Otherwise, we will be viewed as having effectively abandoned our mediation efforts -- a possibility now beyond the purview of our middle East diplomacy. Sadat wants us to realize that in the long run there is a flaw in supposing that the Arabs will not eventually use the power they possess while the Israelis continue to use a power that is not even theirs.