Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said today that Israel's effective annexation of the Golan Heights would have no effect on relations between the two countries, and that he did not regard the Israeli action as "a slap to us at all."
The presidential office yesterday joined other Arab states in denouncing the annexation of Syrian territory won during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a blow to Middle East peace and a "clear violation" of the Camp David accords.
But Mubarak's statement to reporters today indicated he does not intend to allow the action to endanger the next stage of the accords, the April 25 Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory in the Sinai.
The Israeli move comes at a time when Egypt, quietly and with careful planning, has been trying to lay the groundwork for the return of this key Nile Valley nation to the Arab fold. Suspecting this and wondering what the future holds for its relations with the new Egyptian leader, Israel apparently has decided, among other things, to put Mubarak to the hard test of his oft-repeated assurances of continuing peace and good relations with the Jewish state.
Aware of the high stakes and the game Israel is playing, Mubarak today promptly sent out the signal Israel presumably was looking for.
Despite the uproar the annexation has caused in the Arab world, the Egyptian ruler ordered his team of technical experts, who had suspended talks yesterday in Tel Aviv, to resume negotiations on the difficult Palestinian autonomy talks.
Mubarak also discounted going to Syria's aid if war broke out with Israel, saying, "I have said several times we are not going to slip or do something about the annexation of Golan on which we were not consulted. If Syria decides to start a war with Israel, it is her business."
Like his predecessor, the late Anwar Sadat, Mubarak appears determined not to be provoked by even the most hostile Israeli action toward its Arab neighbors into doing anything that might endanger the return of Egyptian land. But, unlike Sadat, Mubarak seems equally determined over the long term to bring Egypt and the Arab world, split by the Camp David accords, back together, a development Israel is likely to regard not only with apprehension for its security but as a defeat of its policy of isolating the strongest Arab military power from its Arab enemies.
One of Mubarak's first decisions upon assuming power was to halt the attacks in the state-controlled Egyptian press on Sadat's various Arab adversaries.
Since then, Egyptian and other Arab diplomatic sources say, he has sent numerous messages to them through third parties, like the Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, that he is hoping for a reconciliation at the appropriate time.
One known direct encounter occurred early this month, when Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs, Boutros Ghali, stopped at the airport in Abu Dhabi on his way to India for an official visit.
Though the United Arab Emirates, like most other Arab states, have broken diplomatic relations with Egypt over the Camp David accords, this did not deter a group of smiling Emirate officials from turning out to greet Ghali on his nighttime stopover.
Those who witnessed the scene said it was a like a family welcome for a long lost and much beloved Arab son who suddenly turned up at the doorstep in the middle of the night.
What was discussed remains a secret, but the reunion tells a lot about Egyptian and Arab hopes for a reconciliation following Sadat's assassination in early October.
It is a reconciliation the Arab world badly needs. The latest summit of Arab leaders in Fez, Morocco, last month broke up in total discord over Saudi Arabia's eight-point plan for a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state and Arab recognition of Israel.
Tel Aviv has vehemently opposed the Saudi plan, which also demands Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem and all Arab lands seized in the 1967 war. While no Israeli official has said so, another objective in deciding now to annex the Golan Heights may well have been to ensure Syria's continued opposition to the Saudi plan.
If so, the Israelis have apparently succeeded. Radio and press reports from Damascus today said the latest Israeli move had among its effects a stiffening of Syrian resolve never to recognize Israel or accept the Saudi or any other peace plan.
The Syrian newspaper Al Thawra said it had "blown up the foundations of all plans for a settlement and has shut the door in the face of moves for establishing a just and durable peace."
The newspaper said Syria would retaliate "with the means necessary to protect its territory" but did not indicate what precisely the government planned to do.
So far, it seems Syria has decided to use diplomatic means against Israel, taking its case to the U.N. Security Council to get a strong resolution condemning annexation, possibly one the United States could also support.
It has already called for a Security Council meeting, and today Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam called on various Third World groups -- the Islamic conference, the nonaligned movement and the Organization of African Unity -- to support its position.
Thus, for the time being at least, Syria and Egypt are still going in opposite directions in their respective policies toward Israel, raising serious doubts about whether reconciliation. at least between Cairo and the radical Arab states, is likely.