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Sadat, Begin power plays: an analysis

* Israeli Prime Miniser Menachem Begin's determination to establish a Jewish presence in the Palestinian city of Hebron underlines his commitment to ensuring Israel's permanent control of the West Bank -- or Judea and Samaria, as he calls it.

* EGyptian President Sadat's provision of a refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran underlines the Egyptian leader's commitment to establishing an impeccable record in the eyes of President Carter and the American people.

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The two actions are related -- even allowing for Mr. Sadat's own particular debt of gratitude to the Shah for support at moments of difficulty in the 1970s. (See report from Cairo, Page 4.)

Mr. Sadat counts on President Carter in turn feeling so indebted to him for good behavior -- meticulous compliance with the Camp David accord of a year ago and help with refuge for the Shah first in 1979 and now in 1980 -- that the United States will feel obliged to put pressure on Mr. Begin to compromise on the West Bank.

The approach of the May 26 deadline for Egyptian-Israeli agreement on a blueprint for autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, increases the pressures for all concerned. It partly explains Mr. Carter's invitation to Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat to meet him separately in Washington next month.

(This also increases the pressure on Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat to make their points and prepare their briefs at an even earlier date.) It partly explains the row over that United Nations Security Council resolution at the beginning of this month that had the net effect of Mr. Carter annoying both Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat -- "the worst of all worlds," as Donald McHenry, US Ambassador to the UN, called it.

Mr. Begin has not been able to avoid compromise in the overall direction of an Arab-Israeli settlement -- despite his record before assuming the premiership as a last-ditch hard-liner. But, in effect, he has sougght to make the compromise a return of all Israeli- occupied Sinai in return for Israel's retaining control of all of the West Bank.

Underlying this approach are:

* Mr. Begin's never-wavering perception of Israel's right to all Palestine as "Eretz Israel" -- the Land of Israel -- in the light of Biblical prophecy. Hence his insistence on always speaking of the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, and on seeing Israel's seizure of the area in 1967 as "liberation," not "occupation."

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* The military consideration, according to which the removal of Egypt from the ring of Arab states confronting Israel (through the return of Sinai and a peace treaty) made a war on Israel by the remaining Arab states a doubly doubtful venture. A minimum requirement for Arab victory over Israel always has been forcing Israel to fight on two fronts at once.

The flaw in this approach is that it leaves unsolved the problem of the Palestinians, generally recognized to be at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Both Egypt and the United States were aware of this from the start. Hence the joint letter from Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat to Mr. Carter dated March 26, 1979 , setting a goal for themselves of negotiating a framework for autonomy for Palestinians on the West Bank. Under the terms of the agreement, these negotiations must be completed by May 26.

From the outset, Israel and Egypt have been at an impasse over the meaning of "autonomy." Israel says in effect it means self-government over people. Egypt says in effect it means self-government over people andm land.

At Camp David, Mr. Carter thought he had Mr. Begin's agreement to install no new Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank until the autonomy negotiations were completed. But Mr. Begin, with an Israeli witness, insisted that the moratorium agreed orally was in fact for three months only.

So the establishments of ISraeli settlements has gone ahead and even picked up steam as May 26 approached. There are some three score now on the West Bank, all (as the US government sees it) in violation of Geneva conventions on the conduct of occupying forces in conquered land.

Basically, of course, Mr. Begin believes the land is "liberated," not "occupied." IT is difficult to escape the conclusion that Mr. Begin's aim is to "create" facts on the West Bank that cannot eventually be undone.

Mr. sadat has had little doubt from the outset about Mr. Begin's long-term aims on the West Bank. But he has counted, and still counts, on Mr. Carter to thwart them. If Mr. Begin "gets away" with Israeli retention of the West Bank, all Mr. Sadat's arab foes who accused him of selling out by going to Jerusalem and then Camp David will chorus: "We told you so."

Mr. Sadat's aim is to prove to those foes that the path of negotiation can lead to Israeli withdrawal from the West bank as well as from Sinai. For the Egyptian leader, it is essential eventually to have something to show on the West Bank issue to entice other Arabs into the peacemaking process.

That is the last thing Mr. Begin wants -- except on Israel's terms, which involve keeping Israeli control over West Bank Palestinians. So in addition to pressing ahead regardless with new settlements and now thrusting a permanent Israeli presence into Hebron, Mr. Begin calculatedly devises utterances and actions under the "peace" umbrella intended to alienate Mr. sadat further from the rest of the arab world.

Mr. Sadat's response: oral protest but compliance with the Camp david accords down to the last dotter "i" and crossed "t." If there is deadlock on May 26 -- or in Washington earlier than that -- he is resolved nobody shall be able to point the finger at him as responsible. Least of all President Carter


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