Military talks between Israel and Egypt are scheduled to resume in Cairo tonight but there is little optimism here about the resumption anytime soon of the political talks, the major forum for broad Middle East peace negotiations between the two countries.
Israeli defense Minister Ezer Weizman is to fly to Cairo early today to lead the Israel delegation to the military talks, which were suspended on Jan. 13.
Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton arrived in Cairo after meeting with Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan here yesterday to put the finishing touches on Israel's compromise suggestion for a "declaration of principles" to guide negotiations between Israel and Egypt.
Atherton is to pass the Israeli formula to the Egyptians and Dayan expressed the hope that the Egyptians will respond favorably through the American embassy in Cairo.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke off the political talks, being held in Jerusalem, when he called his delegation home on Jan. 18, complaining that Israel was not interested in a full settlement.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin broke off the military talks in Cairo shortly after, accusing the semi-official Egyptian press of anti-Semitism. The Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday to resume the military talks after the Egyptian press moderated its attacks.
There is little optimism here, however, about the fate of the political talks and it is uncertain whether Egypt will wish to respond to the Israel compromise proposal until after Sadat has met with president Carter in Washington this weekend.
Atherton, as he boarded his plane for Cairo, told reporters that the future of the political talks will be decided in Washington, according to Israeli radio.
If the political talks resume at all, it may be under a different format, Israeli officials say, but they give no details and few are willing to speculate publicly on the matters before the Sadat-Carter meeting.
Begin told Radio Luxembourg yesterday that if and when political talks resume they would take place in Jerusalem and "in Jerusalem only."
It had been agreed that there would be two separate committees - a political committee and a military committee, he said, and it had been agreed that one would meet in Egypt and the other in Israel. Israeli officials, however, have not dismissed the proposition that military talks could be held in Israel while some kind of revived political talks continue in Cairo.
Begin poured cold water on another suggested compromise that has been widely discussed, most recently and prominently by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin: that Israel and Egypt exchange bits of territory to allow Israel to keep the Israeli settlements in the Rafiah salient of the northern Sinai. Begin told Radio Luxembourg that "there is no Israeli suggestion (of this kind) whatsoever and there won't be."
Dayan has said nevertheless that if Egypt should bring the matter up Israel would be willing to discuss it.
Israeli officials have not divulged the contents of their new compromise formula concerning a "declaration of principles." Previously, Begin had said there had been agreement of five out of seven points in the declaration when Sadat broke off talks.
Officials say, however, that Israel could not accept the term "legitimate rights" from the Palestinians, which President Carter suggested in his compromise wording at Aswan on Jan. 4, because it was too open-ended and ill-defined. Legitimate rights might, in the view of some Israelis, mean anything including the destruction of Israel, and Israel would want the term more clearly defined.
Secondly, Israel has objected to the discussion of the Palestinian issue "in all its aspects." Again the wording is too vague for Israel and could include Israeli responsibility for Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is also little optimisim about the possibility of persuading Jordan's King Hussein to join the peace talks.
Atherton met with the king Sunday in Amman. It had previously been hoped that if Egypt and Israel could agree on a "declaration of principles" Hussein might agree to join the talks.
Now Israeli officials are saying that a declaration of principles might not be enough and that Hussein might want to see some progress on the second point of the political agenda - "Guidelines for negotiations relating to the issues of the West Bank and Gaza" - before he would consider joining Eygpt in negotiations with Israel.