Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali threatened today to recall Egypt's ambassador from Israel to protest the massacre of Palestinian civilians in Israeli-occupied West Beirut.
In a meeting in Cairo, Ali also gave U.S. Ambassador Alfred L. Atherton Jr. a list of demands to Washington, including a request that the United States bring about an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Beirut and the redeployment of the multinational peace-keeping force there.
The sharp Egyptian reaction to the killings in Beirut and the demands that the United States rein in the Israelis illustrate the enormous repercussions the massacre can be expected to have throughout the Arab world, calling into question the worth of U.S. guarantees and the ability of Washington to deal effectively with Israel.
The killings have come at a crucial moment of general Arab rethinking about new peace negotiations with Israel proposed by President Reagan early this month and just after a summit of Arab leaders in Fez, Morocco, where for the first time they implicitly recognized the Jewish state as part of a joint Arab peace initiative.
Western diplomats here say the massacre may well serve to harden the Arab attitude toward Israel, dashing U.S. hopes for a breakthrough in the stalled U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace negotiations.
So far, the impact has been more on emotions than policies, with the Arabs voicing their horror and outrage as much against the United States as Israel but still not taking any concrete steps in retaliation.
Instead a number of Arab leaders, including those of the Palestine Liberation Organization, have called for sending in an international peace-keeping force to protect the population of West Beirut. They have also demanded that the United States take action to enforce its pledges in August to protect the security of the Palestinian civilians there once PLO guerrilla forces left.
Monday, Arab foreign ministers are holding an emergency meeting in Tunis to consider what joint action to take following the latest events in Beirut including the Israeli move into West Beirut in violation of U.S.-guaranteed agreements, the murder of Lebanon's president-elect Bashir Gemayel and the massacre of Palestinian civilians.
Western observers here in the Jordanian capital are fearful that these events may have far-reaching consequences on Arab willingness to entertain any new U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations involving the government of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Not only may President Reagan's new peace initiative fall victim to the events unfolding in Beirut, they say, but also the recent softening of the Arab attitude toward dealing with Israel may now end. This would make it extremely difficult for moderate Arab leaders, notably King Hussein of Jordan, to consider holding talks with the Begin government.
The king, who would be called upon to play a central role in any new negotiations, was initially receptive to Reagan's idea of a Palestinian self-governing entity linked in a federation with his kingdom. But he was reported today to be extremely upset by the massacre and to be reconsidering his position in light of the anger sweeping the Arab world.
In addition, the killings are certain to affect the meeting of the PLO Central Committee today in Damascus to consider what strategy to adopt toward Israel and toward President Reagan's Middle East peace plan. Moderate members arguing for a diplomatic strategy encompassing cooperation with the U.S. initiative are likely to be hard pressed to put forth convincing arguments after what has happened in Beirut.
The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported from Damascus that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had received a message from Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, Reuter reported. The message was a response to a letter Arafat sent Brezhnev Saturday asking Soviet intervention to prevent further killings in Lebanon.
The sequence of events in Beirut is seen in the Arab world as Israeli-inspired from beginning to end and the failure of Washington to halt it has not been lost on Arab capitals watching closely the tug of war now under way between Washington and Jerusalem for the dominant influence in Lebanon.
Typical of Arab reaction was a commentary appearing in the daily newspaper Al Destour here today that blamed Washington for what happened.
"Despite what President Reagan says, it is the United States which pledged to protect the Palestinian refugees in Beirut. It is the United Statees which is the sponsor of the agreement signed by Philip Habib. Therefore, the United States is primarily responsible for the barbaric and horrendous crime perpetrated by Begin and Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon."
In Beirut, Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan called on Reagan to send back the U.S. Marines who participated in the multinational peace-keeping force. He said the United States had "the material and moral responsibility" for the killings and urged the Americans to "shoulder . . . the responsibility for the guarantees they gave us."
Western diplomats here said President Reagan's speech of Sept. 1 outlining the new U.S. peace initiative had been extremely well received in Jordan even within the large Palestinian population. But the hope and good will generated have largely been dissipated by the latest events in Beirut, they said.
"The United States is on the spot," said one diplomat. "It is walking on a knife's edge now in trying to maintain its credibility in the Arab world."