THE PAUSE in Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, which are now expected to resume in Cairo next week at the defense-minister level, will have been worth the considerable heartburn it caused if it taught both parties something about the strange new process of Arab-Israeli negotiation. First, the parties press indulged briefly in language that Israelis were bound to find anti-Semitic and incompatible with the quest for peace. Second, the two leaders must struggle to rise about the temptation to posture excessively for domestic audiences, and for the international media. Each should speak as though the other were in the room. Then, the politicians should give the diplomats the time and quiet needed to do serious work. This is not only a way to steady down the talks; it is also a way to diminish the potent effect that the very special personalities of Anwar Sadat and Menahem Begin almost invariably have on the course of the conversation.
Even if all these things happen, the Cairo military talks, centering just on the Sinai, will be rough. Mr. Sadat may have learned it was wrong to expect Israel to pay up fully and promptly in territory the instant he announced acceptance of its right to exist. But presumably he still expects Israel to pay up fully, if gradually, in territory as the elements of a peace treaty, including security arrangements, and negotiated. The Israelis, however, insist they will not surrender their Sinai settlements and airfields. The transition Cairo has in mind is essentially an exchange of peace of land. The change Israel has in mind seems to be from full occupation without peace, to partial occupation with peace. Perhaps the gap can be narrowed by providing for change over time, or by negotiating security arrangements so firm as to melt Israel's claim to the settlements. Since the real negotiations have yet to being, it is foolish to predict how they will end.
The larger political talks in Jerusalem, covering an overall Arab-Israeli settlement, will prove even tougher. But the West Bank group of issues can't be set aside long, if only because there comes a point where any changes contemplated in the Sinai play directly into changes contemplated in the West Bank. Before the Jerusalem talks broke off, progress was being made on a declaration of general principles - true, very general principles - to govern an overall settlement. The United States has been working during the recess to see if this particular project can be completed. The word from Mr. Begin and others yesterday was that agreement is almost at hand on broad principles to guide the detailed bargaining. The first few months of Israeli-Egyptian contacts have shown that what the parties need most now is experience in dealing with each other. Perhaps not by their own desire or design, they have had the chance to study how quickly - and needlessly - things can go wrong. What they now must practice is how to do it right.