• U.S.

Determined to Persevere

6 minute read

Determined to Persevere Sadat wins U.S. support; Dayan follows with a challenge

It was like a game. Just as Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was completing his series of Washington appearances, Israel’s Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan arrived in the U.S. for his own meetings. Each wanted the U.S. to exert pressure on the other.

Sadat had arrived in Washington feeling and looking glum about the fate of the peace initiative that he had begun with his historic visit to Jerusalem last November. “Carter found Sadat discouraged and demoralized over the slowness of progress,” said one high Administration official. “Sadat’s feelings seemed genuine and deep.” At secluded Camp David, President Carter worked hard to “energize” Sadat, recalled one aide, reminding him that setbacks were inevitable and assuring him of U.S. support. Carter was effusive in his praise, even calling the Egyptian “the world’s foremost peacemaker.”

Sadat, TIME has learned, made a six-point proposal for meeting Israel’s security needs that impressed U.S. officials with its flexibility. The plan envisioned some Israeli military strongpoints remaining on the West Bank following a general troop withdrawal. It also called for U.N. military control of the strategic site of Sharm el Sheikh, and stationing of almost all Egyptians in the Sinai to the west of the strategic Mitla and Giddi passes, with a U.N. force east of the passes and creation of a large “buffer zone.”

Although Sadat was willing to agree to something less than an independent Palestinian state, he insisted that the possibility of such a state existing in the future could not be ruled out. He linked Egypt’s offer to sign a full peace settlement to Israeli treaties with Syria and Jordan, which have refused to join the negotiations; these two points, as well as the proposed reliance on U.N. forces, may not meet easy acceptance within Israel, but the proposal did lead one U.S. Senator who is normally pro-Israel to remark: “If I were Begin, I’d sign an agreement tomorrow based on these guarantees.”

In the course of the talks with Carter, it became obvious that Sadat was even more frustrated than had been expected about what he considered the hardening of the Israeli position—particularly Israel’s continued insistence on the right to settlements in territories captured from the Arabs in the 1967 war. Before leaving Camp David, Sadat shocked Carter and his aides with the announcement that on the next day, in a speech at Washington’s National Press Club, he planned to say publicly that Egypt did not intend for the present to return to any meetings of the Israeli-Egyptian Political Committee, which he had broken off last month. Worried U.S. officials delayed Sadat’s departure from Camp David by an hour, while they argued that such an announcement would bring to a halt whatever peace momentum remained.

They were relieved the next day when Sadat told his audience: “I am determined to persevere. I am willing to give the experiment every possible chance until I reach the conclusion that enough time has elapsed without achieving any tangible progress.” Yet the Egyptian leader was sharply critical of Israel: “We, together with world public opinion, hold the Israeli government responsible for jeopardizing the prospects for peace.”

Later in the week, Carter reaffirmed the long-standing U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and warned that new settlements would hurt the peace effort. That move drew a sharp response from Israel’s Menachem Begin, who was in Geneva attending a meeting of European Jewish leaders. Said he: “I do not accept the view that Israeli settlements are illegal and constitute an obstacle to peace.”

Before leaving Washington, Sadat met with members of both houses of Congress to press his case for U.S. planes to replace the aging MiGs supplied to him before Egypt’s break with Moscow in 1972. “Sadat made a very good case for arms,” said Washington’s Senator Henry Jackson, who is known as one of Israel’s best friends in Washington. Although Sadat had asked for sophisticated F-15s and F-16s, the prospect was that Carter would recommend sale of 50 to 60 of the more modest F-5E fighter planes to Egypt.

Despite Carter’s best efforts, Sadat left the U.S. without agreeing to schedule resumption of the bilateral political talks. On the way back home, Sadat was stopping off to drum up support in England, West Germany, Italy, Austria, Rumania and France. The next diplomatic move will be a series of shuttle flights between Cairo and Jerusalem, with Assistant Secretary of State Alfred (“Roy”) Atherton Jr. as chief shuttler. “I think Sadat left in an upbeat mood,” said a top Carter assistant. That mood lasted at least through Sadat’s arrival in Austria, where he met with Israeli Opposition Leader Shimon Peres. The Egyptian President said in Salzburg that there was “sufficient momentum in the present peace initiative to achieve a final settlement.”

Concerned by the good publicity Sadat received in the U.S., Israel’s Dayan sought to shore up his country’s traditional support among Americans with a hastily planned tour of the U.S. At an unusual public meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Dayan urged his sympathetic audience to remember that it was the Egyptians who were refusing to negotiate, not the Israelis.

Later in the week, during a meeting with the editors of TIME, Dayan said one major cause for Sadat’s breakoff of the political talks was the failure of other Arab leaders to join in the negotiations. “Sadat is desperate not to stay alone” in the talks with Israel, said Dayan. Sadat’s hoped-for partner is Jordan’s King Hussein. But, said Dayan, “he cannot get Hussein into the process unless he gets an agreement in advance on a West Bank withdrawal and a Palestinian state … and we are not going to do it.”

Dayan may carry back to Israel an urgent invitation for Prime Minister Begin to visit Carter in Washington. Begin is scheduled to visit the U.S. next at the end of April for ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of Israel’s independence. But after their experience of Sadat’s depression and changeability, some insiders doubted that Carter would want to wait that long. Said one: “The President wants Begin here as soon as possible to get things unstuck before what’s left goes poof.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com