Israel Plays It Cool in Face of Egypt’s Suspension of Autonomy Talks

The government is continuing to adopt a “play it cool” attitude in the face of Egypt’s suspension of the autonomy negotiations. Premier Menachem Begin received a letter Saturday from President Anwar Sadat which sources here said did not add anything new to the Egyptian complaints against Israeli policy on the West Bank and the Knesset vote last week on a new “basic law” declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.

The Premier’s aides said Begin will consult with ministerial colleagues before replying to Sadat or divulging the precise contents of the letter.

Sadat is perceived here as wanting to resume the talks, but at the some time trying to obtain some Israeli “gesture” that could help him explain away his on-again-off-again decision-making of the past 10 days that has irritated the Americans as well as the Israelis and raised the question of whether Sadat’s leadership of Egypt is entirely stable. (See related story from Washington.)

There was a brief discussion in the Cabinet yesterday on the suspension of the autonomy talks. Israel’s chief negotiator, interior Minister Yosef Burg, noted that the Egyptian National Assembly recently adopted a resolution declaring Jerusalem to be an integral part of the West Bank and its citizens West Bankers. But that did not prompt Israel to consider a unilateral suspension of the talks, Burg said.

CARTER URGES EUROPEANS TO SUSPEND INITIATIVE

Begin reported to the ministers on a letter he received last week from President Carter, when it was believed that the talks were about to resume. Carter wrote that he was instructing Secretary of State Edmund Muskie to persuade the West Europeans not to launch their Middle East diplomatic initiative because it could disrupt the autonomy negotiations.

Some Israelis interpreted this as an implicit warning by Carter that if the talks did not make progress, the European initiative would inevitably be launched. Explicitly, the President merely wrote of the need to press ahead as fast as possible with the talks.

The Israeli assessment that a European initiative is not “imminent” was meanwhile explained today by a high source as covering, in effect, only the next few weeks. The source acknowledged that there could be no firm prediction of how the European Economic Community leaders would handle the Mideast issue at their summit meeting in Venice in June. To a large extent their action would depend on the extent or lack of progress in the autonomy talks here, the source said.

Well placed European sources in Israel have explained that Europe’s chief concern is not to let stagnation set in on the Mideast peace process during the summer and fall, when the Carter Administration will be heavily preoccupied with the Presidential election.

Meanwhile, the high source indicated that Israel is expecting an initiative from Washington to get the suspended autonomy talks resumed. The source added that the U.S., as middle man, would have to come up with gap-bridging ideas if there was to be any hope of substantive progress when and if the talks did begin again.

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