THE CAMP DAVID GAMBLE ON MIDEAST PEACE
The three-nation Camp David summit starting today could prove to be a turning point in the intractable three-decades-long Middle East dispute. The stakes are high. The consequences of failure could be disastrous.
As some observers have speculated, failure at Camp David could result in a fifth Arab-Israeli war — which would be recorded in history as having been precipitated by an ill-timed and ill-advised U.S. summit initiative!
The minimum goal of the summit is to get the two Middle East leaders — President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel — to begin talking once again in order to resume the negotiations which have been deadlocked since January. Virtually nothing has happened between the two nations in the ten months since Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem.
The summit is clearly a gamble. President Carter has taken on a grave responsibility, going beyond the role of mediator or "message carrier" and participating this time as a "full partner" in the discussions. Well aware of the crucial nature of the summit, Carter has turned over to Vice President Mondale the bulk of his presidential duties so he can devote his full time and energy to the conference. The President has a personal motive in the talks as well — success as a "world statesman" is expected to shore up his plunging popularity in the polls!
Chances for full success in the crucial conference are admittedly slim. The prime issue of future control of Israeli-occupied Arab lands is a stubborn impasse which will prove hard to break. To break the logjam, Carter will have to persuade Sadat to make concessions Israel views as essential to its security — concessions which would allow Israel to retain certain strategic territories in the interests of "secure borders." And he will have to persuade Begin that Israeli withdrawal from substantial portions of occupied Arab territory will be necessary if peace is ever to be achieved. Few Israelis, however, believe that giving up occupied lands can buy peace. Many Jews see the West Bank region as absolutely vital to Jewish security, as well as a territory to which Israel has an "historic right." Begin will thus be limited in his ability to compromise in this area.
Yet compromises, in Carter's words, "will be mandatory. Without them, no progress can be expected. Flexibility will be the essence of our hopes."
The news media are stressing that the summit will be a crucial test of Carter's diplomatic skill; whether he will be able to exert leverage without straining relations with either Israel or Egypt to the breaking point. If the past record of the President's statesmanship and "diplomatic skill" is any indication, we may as well prepare for the worst. The one U.S. "ace in the hole," however, could be a proposal by Carter to station American troops in the West Bank and Sinai regions as part of a peace settlement.
Most observers are hoping, at best, for a recommitment to continue the negotiations. The consequences of failure to achieve even this are viewed with fear in all quarters. There would be the possibility of renewed and escalating violence on the part of Palestinian groups; the possibility of a squeeze on oil supplies to the West (Saudi Arabia has hinted at the use of the "oil weapon"); the possibility of new Soviet incursions into the Arab world; and the most feared possibility of all — another bloody Mideast conflagration, the most disastrous and destructive to date.
Much rides, therefore, on the outcome of the summit. Possibly the spectre of the dire consequences of failure could compel some modicum of success at Camp David. That is the hope; that is Carter's gamble. The next few days will tell whether his gamble was successful. The odds, however, are not good.
— Gene H. Hogberg, News Bureau
POSTSCRIPT to our two previous Pastor's Report accounts about the papal election, and Giovanni Cardinal Benelli in particular. Benelli, according to TIME magazine of September 4, 1978, was one of two pivotal personalities in promoting the candidacy of Albino Cardinal Luciani, now Pope John Paul I. Reported TIME: "At 57, Benelli proved too young to be Pope. Still, he seemed to be the leading Pope-maker of the 1978 conclave, and figures to be a prime contender at the next one."