President Sadat is under attack by Arab critics of his peace initiative—hardly an unusual state of affairs. The Middle East is accustomed to such all-out campaigns which come and go with the mood of the moment. It would not be surprising if the severe assault on Sadat subsides as abruptly as it has come, once his critics have had time to assess seriously the results of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. As one Palestinian, I believe that assessment should consider the following points:
1) The details of the peace treaty are neither complete nor final and much remains to be determined by negotiations. Hence, to condemn the treaty may prove to be premature and groundless.
2) President Sadat has consistently described the peace treaty he has just signed as a first step toward a comprehensive, dignified, and just peace for all parties, especially the Palestinians. It would be wise to wait to see the other steps before passing judgment.
3) President Sadat and the Egyptian negotiators are bound to face firm and determined opposition in negotiating the many pending issues with the Israelis. Their position in the negotiations will be stronger or weaker according to whether they get backing from other Arabs or not. However, the gains from a strong Egyptian position will accrue to all the Arabs, and the costs of a weak position will fall on them just as much.
4) The initiative by President Sadat has been a breakthrough in international relations, one with hardly any precedents that might guide us. Therefore, any evaluation by traditional methods would be likely to risk misjudgment. Since traditional diplomacy has so far failed to resolve the issues—as has military action—it would be judicious for the Arab countries and the Palestinians to give the new approach a chance. Though it may seem doubtful that results acceptable to the other parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict can be achieved, they could lose little if the initiative were to fail, compared to the possible gains if it were to succeed.
5) President Sadat is being severely criticized for his leadership in the peace negotiations. Yet none of his critics has been able to propose other feasible approaches to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict. The policies of waiting, of military action, of economic boycott, and of diplomatic aggression have had little effect either on the solidarity between Israel and the US or on their counteroffensives against the Arabs opposing them. Therefore it would be more fruitful for us to discover and capitalize on the positive aspects of the Sadat initiative.
6) Mr. Begin is now being challenged to prove his country’s sincerity in calling for a just and lasting peace. It seems likely that he will delay implementing the treaty as long as possible. Therefore, it may indeed be politically and diplomatically astute of the Arabs to challenge Israel and its leaders to stand by their words in the Camp David and Washington agreements. Accepting Sadat’s initiative and putting Israel on the spot to prove its readiness for a negotiated settlement could prove to be the most effective and unifying Arab policy conceivable at this time. If Israel accepts the challenge, Arabs who seek self-determination for the Palestinians may win the battle for this goal peacefully. If Israel refuses the challenge, the Arabs will have scored a diplomatic victory and turned world opinion in their favor. The other Arab states and the PLO would do well to put Israel on the spot by means of another peace initiative, as Sadat did eighteen months ago.
Peace is difficult to attain and even more difficult to sustain, but the gains of attaining and sustaining peace will more than offset the costs of doing so, and far outweigh the imaginary advantages of the no-peace-no-war situation that has prevailed in the region for years.
We Palestinians have for a long time emphasized the negative, the faulty, and the inadequate in our approach to Israel. It is time for us to look for the positive and constructive in seeking a solution. If we take a critical but positive attitude toward the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty now, this could be our best opportunity to launch a firm and positive approach toward the entire problem. Such a positive approach should help to revive the shattered Arab unity, force Israel into making significant compromises, and augment international backing for the Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination, independence, and sovereignty on equal footing with other states in the Middle East.
As for me, I fully appreciate President Sadat’s initiative and respect his right to bring peace to Egypt. And while I reject the autonomy plan proposed for the West Bank and Gaza, I am confident that solid backing for President Sadat’s efforts, and full participation by the Palestinians and other Arabs, may be the best assurance that the autonomy plan would be transformed into self-determination for the Palestinians, and that total withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories will become a reality. I am certain that many Palestinians share these views. It is my hope that they will also speak up, and express a positive Palestinian attitude, which seems long overdue. To take this step will cost us little; to let the present opportunities pass us by could be harmful beyond redemption.