Israel sent conciliatory signals to Egypt yesterday in an apparent effort to get peacemaking started again.
In a moderate-toned speech to the parliament, Prime Minister Menahem Begin said that if the government-controlled Egyptian press drops what he described as its current antisemitic campaign in "the next few days." Israel will soon resume the military negotiations in Cairo.
In another conciliatory gesture, the government announced last night that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, the chief Israeli negotiator at the Cairo military talks, would postpone a planned arms-shopping trip to Washington "until the government makes a decision on the continuation of the work of the military committee in Cairo."
Weizman was to leave for Washington Thursday. Israel had been attaching increased importance to that trip since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat renewed requests last week to buy U.S. warplanes. Tha Israeli Cabinet had decided only Sunday that Weizman should postpone any trip to Cairo to underline displeasure with Sadat's suspension of the talks in Jerusalem last Wednesday.
Israel was saying, in effect, that it could be as tough as Sadat. But yesterday Begin let up, concentrating his fire on Egypt's government-controlled press and avoiding any direct criticism of Sadat and his government.
Israel left its negotiating team in Cairo under Weizman's deputy, Gen. Avraham Tamir, who is chief of the military planning staff. There had been reports that the negotiators might be brought home, but Weizman reportedly insisted that the last direct Israeli link with Egypt not be broken.
Both government supporters and opposition leaders described Begin's speech as "low key" and designed to revive peacemaking efforts.
Begin's tone was a relief to many who had expressed fear that he had called for the foreign policy debate in parliament to let off steam in retaliation for Sadat's action.
Both Israeli and U.S. officials here insist that, although the talks had barely started when Sadat called them off, definite progress was being made on writing a joint Israeli-Egyptian declaration of principles to government a peace settlement.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton Jr. continued to work on the language for such a text in separate meetings here yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and with Weizman.
Atherton told reporters he has no plans to start any "shuttle diplomacy" between Cairo and Jerusalem this week but he does not rule out the possibility.
The key paragraph about which there was disagreement when Sadat stopped the political committee talks dealt with the future of the Palestinians.
The Israelis say they were prepared to give formal acceptance to the carefully phrased verbal formula that President Carter proposed after meeting with Sadat in Aswan. Skirting the idea of "self-determination" for the Palestinians, which the Israelis equate with establishment of a Palestinian state, Carter spoke of the Palestinians' right "to participate in the determination of their own future."
Israeli diplomats are increasingly insistent that it is now the job of the Americans to rescue the Israeli-Egyptian peace efforts, through quiet diplomacy. "We should let the Americans work on it," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Dayan told an interviewer Saturday that he wanted the Americans to continue to be active even at the risk that they will pressure Israel for concessions. Only Washington, Dayan said, has influence over Egypt. "Without U.S. mediation and her suggestions, and the weight which her suggestions carry in Cairo . . . I find it difficult to imagine how we will make progress with Egypt," Dayan said.
Until now, it has been the Egyptians who have stressed the Americans' leverage on the Israelis.
The Americans here say practically in chorus that they find it difficult to imagine how they could possibly become more deeply involved than they already are. Never mind the headknocking we had to do just to get an agenda," said one. "They can't even organize planes back and forth without us."
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed with approval to a statement by Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Boutros Ghali that "We must try to revive the peace process on a healthier basis, away from television cameras and other news media."
The Israelis are saying that the real reason Sadat broke off the Jerusalem talks, aside from his impatience with Israel's insistence on time-consuming detailed negotiations, is that it is hard for him to make piecemeal concessions in public, where the rest of the Arab world can attack his every move.
The Israeli press has blossomed with editorials calling for an end to public diplomacy.
Yesterday, Begin avoided his usual practice of speaking extemporaneously, which has produced several statements to which Sadat has taken exception. The Israeli prime minister spoke from carefully prepared notes. Excerpts in English were available minutes after ha had finished.
Even that prepared text was toned down in the delivery. Begin dropped the word "warning" from a passage saying that Weizman would not be sent back to Cairo if the Egyptian press were not toned down. He also added the phrase "in the next few days" to put an approximate time limit on the amount of time Israel will monitor the Egyptian press before resuming talks.
The largest portion of the hour-long speech was devoted to quoting antisemitic headlines and articles from the Egyptian press. He compared them to the antisemitic propaganda of Nazi Germany. Begin expressed particular offense at the comparisons of him to the Shakespearian character Shylock, the merchant of Venice, who demanded "a pound of flesh" from a debtor.
The only Israeli reporter left in Egypt, the correspondent of Israeli state radio, noted that the newspaper Al Akhbar continued to use the image today, saying, "Egypt will resume the talks with Israel when Begin speaks in language different from that of Shylock."
The other Israeli reporters who flew home from Egypt yesterday said they had a hard time persuading their Egyptian hosts that they were going home on orders from their money-conscious editors and not on orders from the Israeli government.
Begin also reviewed the negotiations to date, stressing that Sadat knew the basic Israeli positions when he came to Jerusalem in November and that there is no justification for him to complain about them now.
He said Sadat had given a personal pledge in Jerusalem that the Sinai Peninsula would be demilitarized along the line of strategic passes of Gidi and Mitla that now divide the Israelis and Egyptians. But Begin said, Egyptian War Minister Mohammed Gamassi subsequently proposed a line 100 to 125 miles closer to Israel and only 25 miles from Israel's 1967 frontier.
"I call upon [Sadat] for the sake of credibility to instruct his military staff to abide by his undertaking," said Begin.
Underlining his statements that Israel insists on territorial adjustments, Begin has dispatched Housing Minister Gidon Patt to represent him at the founding ceremony for a new settlement in the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in the 1976 war. Speaking at Katzrim, Patt said Israel stands firm in its determination not to evacuate the Golan.