Israelis worried by Western nations' earnest wooing of post-Sadat Egypt
Israeli officials are concerned that Western anxieties over the future of Egypt's new government may be translated into pressure on Israel to make concession to Egypt.
The import of the massive American and European presence at the funeral of assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was not lost on Israeli officials, nor were US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig's effusive declarations of friendship and support -- calling Egypt, perhaps inadvertently, "foremost among . . . our friends in region."
The Israeli press reported prominently the remarks of West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher after returning to Bonn following talks with Mr. Mubarak last week. Mr. Genscher said that the continuation of the peace process in the Middle East depends on additional concessions by Israel on the Palestinian issue and on a "constructive" stand regarding Jerusalem's contacts with Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir assured the Israeli Cabinet upon their return from the Sadat funeral that no one in Cairo had asked them to make concessions, like advancing the April 1982 date for Israel's final withdrawal from Sinai.
Mr. Shamir told newsmen before leaving Cairo that there was "no reason for Israel to make a unilateral gesture to Egypt's new leaders," nor was there any reason "to pressure Israel over what happened in Cairo."
For its part, Israel is stressing its desire to continue the peace process -- as graphically illustrated by the attendance of Mr. Begin and his top three Cabinet ministers at Mr. Sadat's funeral. All four men were apparently impressed by Mr. Mubarak's sincerity, despite their awareness, in Mr. Begin's words, of "the dangerous situation."
This unanimity will give Mr. Begin broad backing in his fight against newly resilient ultra-right-wing demands to stop the Israeli withdrawal. And the Israeli leader's statements on his return from Cairo saying he was "convinced" the peace process would continue -- and stressing that all meetings between Israel and Egypt on normalization and autonomy would take place as previously scheduled -- were much stronger than his words after Mr. Sadat's death.
But Israeli analysts are already warning that simple continuity -- impressive as it may be under the circumstances -- may not be enough to satisfy Israel's Western allies. With US-Saudi relations strained over the AWACS controversy and with America's Mideast strategy shaken by Mr. Sadat's death, these analysts predict that the US will be reluctant to see Mr. Mubarak's positions weakened by a stalemate in autonomy talks or by any sudden move by Mr. Begin on settlements of the kind that so often embarrassed Mr. Sadat.
"The West as whole, led by the United States, will mobilize to . . . stabilize the Mubarak government in Egypt," wrote respected anaylst Nahum Barnea in the pro-Labor Party daily Davar. "It will expect Israel to pay a price."
The price could call for concessions on autonomy for the Palestinians in Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, say some analysts. Secretary of State Haig told NBC news that he had urged both Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Begin to relax "some of their more inflexible attitudes on . . . autonomy."
Analysts here widely believe that Mr. Mubarak will take a less-flexible stand on autonomy than did Mr. Sadat, in part because he will have one eye on bettering relations with the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia. In this, case , suggests Arabist Prof. Amnon Cohen of Hebrew University, "the present US administration might try to convince Israel she has to be much more lenient. . . ."
Such Western pressure could create a vicious circle. Pushed for concessions by opponents of withdrawal, and pressed by the US and Egypt, Mr. Begin might simply take a tougher line, observers here say.
News media and political analysts are already suggesting that Israel must step carefully to avoid placing itself in a situation where it might be blamed by the US for any disruption of the peace process. Arabist Prof. Emmanual Sivan of Hebrew University suggested on Israel radio that his country should not follow a "wait-and-see" policy toward the Mubarak regime for too long. He suggested they look seriously for ways to further autonomy while they still "held cars," i.e., part of Sinai. If Sinai were given back while autonomy remained frozen, he predicted EGypt might turn toward Saudi Arabia and a Saudi peace initiative.