An American compromise broke the stalemate yesterday on the agenda for Egyptian-Israeli peace talks in Jerusalem, and Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance agreed to join the conference, which will start Tuesday, a day late.
The 24-hour delay over launching the talks by foreign ministers of the three nations was a sobering reminder of the obstacles ahead in the complex negotiations.
Vance's refusal to leave for Israel until the procedural barrier was overcome put pressure on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin to shift ground. It also symbolized the Carter administration's determination to take a more forceful role to prevent collapse of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace initiative.
After postponing his departure from Washington on Saturday night with only 90 minutes' notice. Vance welcomed yesterday's Israeli-Egyptian agreement on the agenda compromise and prepared to depart from Andrews Air Force Base at 11 o'clock last night.
American officials said the agreement reached yesterday represented "neutral language" between the Egyptian and Israeli positions on the central dispute over Palestinian rights in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gala Strip. The dispute may sound like semaptic [WORD ILLEGIBLE][WORD ILLEGIBLE] the underlying conflict is deep.
In a replay of the stalemate that produced an impasse on this subject when Begin and Sadat met at Ismailia on Christmas Day, Egypt wanted agenda language to hold open the prospect that "a Palestinian state" ultimately could be created in the region. Egypt wanted the subject defined therefore as "the Palestinian question," American officials said.
Israel wanted this agenda item to be listed as "the question of the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."
This language, an Egyptian diplomat protested, "would be nothing but the Menahem Begin proposal."
Judea and Samaria are the biblical names for the West Bank area. There, and in Gaza, Begin has proposed local "self-rule" for the Arabs and "mutual right of settlement" for Jews and Arabs, but continued Israeli control of security and public order and no "self-determination" or independent state. Begin has said the plan could be reviewed in five years.
The compromise agenda language that has been accepted, a State Department official said yesterday, is broad enough so that "it does not exclude either side from putting forward its own position." The language, another source said, uses the more neutral terminology of the "West Bank," rather than Judea and Samaria, and leaves open all Palestinian questions.
Vance is prepared, U.S. officials say, to put forth American proposals to bridge the gap between the Israeli and Egyptian positions.
One objective is to establish a set of principles for an overall Arab-Israeli settlement that will enable Sadat to demonstrate to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab nations that he is not out to get just an Egyptian-Israeli agreement. Years of negotiation are expected for an overall settlement.
In the near future, the United States hopes that Egypt and Israel can agree on what is termed a framework for dealing with the West Bank-Gaza issue that goes somewhat beyond the declaration of principles. This is particularly designed to bring Jordan and moderate Palestinians into the negotiations on resolving the Palestinian question "for an interim period."
President Carter has said this could be the administration of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, Jordan, moderate Palestinians, and perhaps the United Nations.
American officials have discounted any prospect for even an agreement on principles during the few days they say that Vance is expected to be in Jerusalem. When Vance leaves, Assistant Secretary of State Alfred L. Atherton Jr., who had a more passive role in the preliminary Egyptian-Israeli talks in Cairo, will take the lead in the American delegation in Jerusalem.
When Vance arrived in Jerusalem today he is scheduled to meet with Begin and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. The Vance schedule also includes a brief stop in Cairo with Sadat, originally set for Thursday on Vance's way home from Israel, but now likely to be Friday or later.
The postponement and rescheduling of Vance's Israel trip over the weekend, and the actions of the Israeli and Egyptian governments, appeared to be highly volatile and uncertain. In fact, the sequence was privately predicted by administration sources Saturday night.
The mild-mannered Vance is noted for his lack of public flair and the avoidance of dramatics in the style of former Secretary Henry A. Kissinger. Vance, nevertheless, was said to have been determined to demonstrate that he would not go to Jerusalem to engage in "haggling over procedural problems as occurred at Cairo," and President Carter agreed.
A State Department official said over the weekend that Vance "has a mandate from the President to be more active." The delay in joining the Jerusalem talks therefore was also intended to have diplomatic symbolism for the American posture in the difficult negotiating ahead.