The Egyptian-Israeli agreement of Aug. 26 to resume Camp David negotiations toward Palestinian autonomy revitalizes what Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin sometimes call their "agreement to disagree."
Thus when the talks resume Sept. 23-24, the second step in Camp David -- the fate of Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza -- is likely to be far from settlement. Yet both Begin and Sadat said here Aug. 26 they are optimistic the autonomy negotiations can be concluded by the end of the year.
Two and a half years after the Camp David accord was signed, Egyptian, Israeli, and American officials say it stands out as a still-unviolated agreement for two foes to work out their differences over a conference table instead of in desert wars. It is, Sadat said Aug. 26, "a full strategic agreement; strategy means continuance."
"There will be no chance after April 1982," when the final portion of Sinai is transferred from Israel to Egypt, Begin maintained at the same briefing.
Examination of the credit-debit ledger of Camp David today shows that both sides have gained peace, have shifted economic and military balances, and continue to see Camp David as the only road to travel. Israel has traded real estate for guarantees, mostly from America. Egypt has traded its standing as first among Arabs for territories it could not win back in combat -- and for a degree more prosperity.
Here is how the balance sheet looks:
* Arab-Israeli military standing: Through Camp David Israel has neutralized Egypt -- with its army of 300,000 the most powerful nation in the Arab world -- for as long as the treaty holds. In return, however, Israel has relinquished two-thirds of the Sinai Peninsula, which acted as a buffer against Egypt and protected Israeli shipping throught the Strait of Tiran.
Israel also has evacuated its forces from the vital Sinai land passes of Giddi and Mitla.
"The Yom Kippur War [of 1973] was a good example of how the Sinai protected Israel," says Begin military adviser Ephrath Poran. "The whole war was fought in Sinai, away from the population areas of Israel."
Other military analysts, however, point out that controlling Sinai overextended Israel's small reserve-intensive Army.
Israel has handed over control of one Air Force base to Egypt so far (Rafijah) and by April 1982 will hand over those at Etzion, Eitan, and Ophira. The US has contributed $800 million to constructing two new Israeli air bases in the Negev region.
What Egypt has gained in territory is limited by treaty stipulations. Only one Egyptian Army division may be deployed east of Suez; half that is allowed at present. A new multinational force of 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers is preparing to patrol a strip of the Sinai along the Israeli border and the Gulf of Aqaba beginning next spring.
The bottom line: a plus for Egypt on the ground.
* Economic transfers: Israel relinquished Sinai oil wells at Alma and Abu Rudeis, which Israel experts say could have met their country's entire oil needs by 1982. Egypt, however, agreed to sell Israel the equivalent of the lsot oil or about one-third of Israel's yearly consumption. Egypt is delivering oil worth $600 million per year to Israel.
Israel also lost 14 settlements established in the Sinai, housing 2,000 people. Eleven settlements still remain but will be vacated by next April. To Israelis, this represents the loss of "growth room" more than it does of prime land, give the harsh conditions of Sinai.
Sadat has talked of turning the Sinai into an agricultural garden using Nile River water, but no actual move in that direction has taken place. The main benefit to Egypt of Camp David has been regained use of the Suez Canal, its biggest income earner next to oil sales.
Peace has brought back Western tourists and businessmen. Oil exploration has expanded rapidly, and Egypt stands on the verge of producing 1 million barrels per day.
Moreover, as a result of Camp David, the US is giving Egypt $2 billion per year in economic and military aid (a similar amount goes to Israel). This has enabled Sadat to give his 40 million people a modest "peace dividend" in the form of economic growth.
Bottom line: a plus for Egypt.
* Political repercussions: Arab ambassadors left Cairo as Egypt was drummed out of the Arab League in 1979, losing financial aid from Saudi Arabia -- all due to Camp David. But leaks have begun to appear in the Arab opposition.
Normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel, Sadat says, "will deepen in the future." There are Egyptian and Israeli embassies in respective capitals. But tourism and trade still flow mostly from Israel to Egypt.
Egyptian sources say social and bureaucratic pressures are exerted on Egyptians not to get too familiar with Israelis.
Bottom line: a plus for Israel.
Neither Israel, Egypt, nor the US can find Palestinians willing to enter the autonomy talks mandated as the next step of Camp David. And all parties currently agree that the PLO should not be invited. Diplomats believe this remains Camp David's stumbling block.