Mattityahu Peled is a major general (ret.) in the Israeli army and chairman of the Department of Arabic Studies at Tel Aviv University. As a member of the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, he has since July 1976 taken part in numerous discussions with the PLO. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. He writes:
This interview took place before the political and military committees of Israel and Egypt began their meetings. The political committee in Jerusalem, set up to grapple with the most sensitive issues dividing the parties, has since been suspended, and, at this writing, it is not clear when or if the talks will be resumed. The reasons for this setback are not yet entirely clear. Prime Minister Begin’s provocative remarks to the Egyptian foreign minister must surely be seen as a reflection of great internal political pressures for inflexibility under which he is laboring, and to which I point in this interview. President Sadat’s no less provocative recall of Mr. Kamel seems to have been only the most recent and extreme reflection of his growing dissatisfaction with the pace of the negotiations. But it is in any event important to understand that after thirty years of bitter conflict the road to peace will be often very rough, that all kinds of tactics and formulas will be employed by both parties to ease domestic political pressure and gain for their respective claims a favorable response from the international community.
The negotiations between Israel and Egypt require time and patience. At Ismailia political and military committees were shrewdly established precisely to provide a setting for months of diplomatic bartering. Clearly the partners to these talks will have to work harder than they have so far to maintain a climate of diplomatic earnestness and good will.
Above all, despite the reversal at Jerusalem, it is essential to realize how much progress has already taken place. There are still grounds for hope. And that is the spirit in which I offered the following analysis.
LEON WIESELTIER: The plan for the political and military disposition of the West Bank and Gaza which Prime Minister Begin brought to Ismailia—or at least that part of the plan made public—contained an interesting clause on the controversial matter of territorial sovereignty:
Israel stands by its right and its claim of sovereignty to Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza district. In the knowledge that other claims exist, it proposes for the sake of the agreement and the peace that the question of sovereignty be left open.
Did such language, or any other aspect of Begin’s plan, signal a shift in his thinking? In what way was the plan a new departure in Israeli policy?
MATTITYAHU PELED: I believe that plan displayed a substantial departure from Begin’s previous thinking. I see this in several points. First, he agreed for the first time that Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the …