An Opportunity for Palestinians?

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…

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