Israeli and Egyptian negotiators met in a closed session here this morning and then adjourned until Monday, apparently to await the outcome of Israeli Prime Minister Manahem Begin's crucial talks with President Carter in Washington.
Today's session of the Cairo peace conference lasted little more than two hours, and was followed by an informal meeting of Egyptian and Israeli legal experts, who discussed procedural matters for discussions next week.
Although all sides spoke in up-beat terms about progress and cordiality, there was no masking the fact that the Cairo talks were stalled at least temporarily - over the fundamental issues.
There was also little doube that Begin's surprise initiative has upstaged the Cairo meeting, and that all sides are awaiting the outcome of his talks with Carter and the precise nature of Israeli concessions. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, in an interview with CBS News, voiced the belief that Begin's Washington trip "is a move that will give a new impetus to the Cairo conference." He also said that he had a standing invitation to visit Washington, but so far had no plans to go.
As outlined by various Israeli and U.S. sources, Begin's proposals include the return of most of the Israeli-occupied Sinai peninsula to Egypt and some type of autonomy for the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River, with a possible link to Jordan.
The West Bank question goes to the heart of any Arab-Israeli peace settlement since the area would form the site of a "Palestinian homeland." Begin's publicly stated position has been that Israel would never surrender the historic Judea and Samaria lands of biblical times.
Amid speculation that Begin was comtemplating a major shift on the West Bank, the first two days of the conference here focused on procedural matters suggesting continued differences.
"If there were no differences, we wouldn't be sitting here and there wouldn't be any need for a conference." said Israeli spokesman Dan Patir. "But there has definitely been progress. We don't go backwards."
The reason officials here gave for the three-day recess of the conference as that Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the Moslem, Jewish and Christian days of worship.
There has been little agreement so far on procedural issues and little opportunity to even discuss substance. There are also still disagreements on the agenda. On Tuesday, during informal, pre-conference talks, the Israelis and Egyptians argued for hours about name plates on the table.
The Egyptians wanted name plates for the missing delegates, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, while the Israelis did not want to sit at the same table with a PLO name plate - even if the chair was empty.
The issue was finally resolved by having no name plates on the table. A similar flap about flags was decided by the same compromise.
Although the Egyptian delegate chaired the opening ceremonial session yesterday, today's plenery session was held with no chairman, presumably because there was no agreement on the matter.
As for agenda, the Israelis still want to begin with a definition of peace while the Egyptians would like to talk about Israeli withdrawals from occupied territorials and rights of the Palestinians.
Although the Cairo conference retains its significance because Israelis and Egyptians are negotiating at last, face to face, after 30 years, here hasn't been much in the way of real business yet and the first week of the conference will result in more sight-seeing than negotiations.
After lunch today, the Israeli delegation went outside the Mena House Hotel and visited the pyramids, which Begin liked to say the Jews helped to build before Moses led them out of Egypt.
It is to be expected that informal, behind-the-scenes talks will continue, but so far the impression here is that both sides are holding open telephone lines to higher authorities.
The legal committee that met to decide procedural matters was made up of Nabil Arabi and Abdul Rauf Ridi on the Egyptian side and Meir Rosenne on the Israeli side.