In Search of Moderate Egyptians
THE recent breakdown of Secretary of State Kissinger’s step-by-step negotiations in the Middle East was immediately followed by what seems to have been a carefully planned if private effort on the part of American officials-to blame the failure of the mission on Israeli “intransigence” and lack of “flexibility.” Implied in this view, which was attributed to both President Ford and Secretary Kissinger, and quickly made its way into newspapers and radio and television reporting, is the notion that on the Egyptian side, a new willingness has been shown to deal with Israel as an established fact and to take steps that might eventually lead to normal relations between the two countries-a process now allegedly jeopardized by Israel’s “stubbornness.” The Egyptians, in other words, according to this scenario, have changed; they no longer demand the destruction or disappearance of Israel; they have become moderate, while Israel has become inflexible and belligerent.
Even before the fighting ended in the 1973 war, reports had begun to circulate in the West about the new “reasonableness” in Egypt. Many Arabists argued that the restoration of Arab pride on the battlefield would permit Egypt to reach a peace with Israel. After the cease-fire, when Egyptians met Israelis for disengagement negotiations at Kilometer 101 in the Sinai, they did so in the presence of a Finnish UN observer force and to the acclamation of an army of nine hundred journalists. These hopeful beginnings were accompanied by a new kind of rhetoric emanating from Egyptian officialdom in which the old bellicosity and threats of throwing Israel into the sea were replaced by announcements of a readiness and a desire for peace.
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