In the last few weeks, Egypt has been all diplomatic motion, sending secret envoys to Israel and throwing up a variety of peace proposals. Israeli officials, starved for any hint of warmth from Egypt, are required to give any Egyptian gesture the benefit of the doubt. Americans, who are not so desperate, need not be so diplomatic. As partners to Camp David, they have a right to ask questions. The first is: Could there be a connection between this sudden peace offensive and President Mubarak's arrival tomorrow in Washington?
Mubarak comes to Washington to ask for $3.15 billion, plus forgiveness of unpaid interest on Egypt's $4.5 billion military debt. But he will have to mollify Congress, which is in no mood to grant him the money. That is because Aerican largess was our part of the deal at Camp David. For its part, Egypt promised the United States two things: strategic cooperation with the United States and normal relations with Israel.
Congress will ask Question 2: What has happened to strategic cooperation? Its symbol was to be the Ras Banas naval base in southeastern Egypt. Sadat had promised President Carter military facilities at Ras Banas. The United States envisioned it as a staging ground for the Rapid Deployment Force. Mubarak scrapped the whole project. The reason is not sinister. Mubarak simply does not want to be closely associated with the United States, both for domestic and Third World reasons. As Prime Minister Kamal Hassan Ali once said, "We take weapons from the United States, but we are not aligned to the United States." How non-aligned? The United States asked Egypt to allow a Voice of America transmitter on its soil. Mubarak said no even to that. (It will be placed in Israel instead). Fair enough. Egypt is, as we say here, a free country. But if no quid, why our $3 billion quo?
The other half of the Camp David bargain was to be this: Israel gives up Sinai, a buffer zone three times its own size and its only source of oil; Egypt gives normal relations (the verb is strange, but so is the deal) and sends an ambassador to Tel Aviv. Question 3: How are relations and where is the ambassador?
Answer: The ambassador was recalled to Egypt over two years ago, and cultural, commercial and scientific agreements are nearly frozen. As Butros Ghali, Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs, put it, relations are in a state of "cold peace."
Now, when the United States sponsored Camp David, it did not press Israel to give up all of Sinai for non-belligerency. Israel already had non-belligerency. That was guaranteed not only by the Sinai II disengagement accord of 1975, but by the preponderance of Israel's deterrent power. Israel gave up Sinai fo normal relations. Not for the material benefits such relations would bring -- they are hardly worth a tenth of the lost oil revenues alone -- but because the example of open, routine commerce between Egyptian and Jew might persuade other Arabs to seek coexistence with Israel.
Egypt blames cold peace on the Lebanon war. However convenient an excuse that may once have been -- in fact, the freezing of relations began long before Lebanon and accelerated with the Sadat assassination -- it rings false now. Israel, under a Labor Prime Minister, is leaving Lebanon. (Likud committed Israel to withdrawing as far back as May 1983, in the treaty negotiated by Secretary of State George Shultz.) Furthermore, Shimon Peres is open to compromise on the West Bank, another "warming" condition recently created by Mubarak.
Well, says Egypt, Israel is still illegally holding Taba. Taba is a dot on the map. In fact, it is in dispute because, when the map was drawn in 1906, the lines were drawn in pencil. All of Taba lies under the width of the pencil mark! Suppose Taba did belong to Egypt. Israel gave up 61,000 square kilometers in Sinai. Taba is less than one.
For returning 99.99 percent of the land, what has Israel gotten? Israel has an embassy in Cairo with an Israeli flag flying over it. But the Israeli mission is totally ostracized by Egyptian society. The ghettoized Israeli Embassy in Cairo mirrors precisely the position of the Israeli state in the larger Arab world: an alien presence in quarantine. If that is what Israel gets for Camp David, then, in fairness, it should have given up Taba and kept the rest of Sinai.
We are now in the midst of a mini peace enthusiasm. The Mubarak peace offensive, however, is unusually empty, even by Middle East standards. Next week he will ask the United States to start a "peace process" by negotiating with a Jordanian-PLO delegation. This is a transparent attempt to get the United States to deal with the PLO, wihout the PLO's renouncing terror and recognizing Israel (America's longstanding condition for such talks). It is also a way to get Hussein off the hook of direct talks with Israel.
If the "process" is nothing more than maneuver, what of the "peace"? The peace everyone will be talking about next week is ultimately to be brought about, all will agree, by the "land for peace" formula. Well, land for peace is not just theory. It now has a history. That history -- Camp David -- suggests a final question, not only for Mubarak but for others eager to press Israel into new and riskier concessions: We can all see the land. Mubarak has Sinai. Where is the peace?