Egypt and Israel resumed direct negotiations last night and the Egyptians began studying new Israeli suggestions about the terms of a proposed declaration of principles for a peace agreement. But the cumulative effect of the day's events showed how far from peace the two countries really are.
Authoritative officials said they remain far apart on the difficult issues that led to an impasse in their negotiations last month. The flurry of activity yesterday was described as largely a pro forma exercise already overshadowed by the prospect of President Anwar Sadat's trip to the United States this weekend.
The Egyptians are making clear that Sadat plans a strong, direct appeal to President Carter to begin translating his Middle East policies into action, and to the American people to support Carter if he moves to put pressure on Israel. In the Egyptian view, that is now the main event, and the talks in Cairo this week are essentially technical and exploratory.
"I know that some of my people are criticizing the United States," Sadat told a delegation of American Jews and Christians who visited him yesterday, "because they think that with a clear American position, lots of differences can be solved. They are looking for American afforts."
That same tone is being adopted by Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel and other Egyptian officials in anticipation of Sadat's trip. The American efforts to help Egypt achieve peace are welcome, they are saying, but the time is coming for clearcut U.S. action to end the impasse brought on by what in viewed here as Israeli intransigence.
American officials said the role to be played by the United States in future negotiations was discussed in the meeeting between Kamel and Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton yesterday morning.
Kamel told reporters after their two hour meeting, "We hope that through the efforts of the United States we will eventually reach a comprehensive and lasting peace."
It was understood that in his talks with Atherton he stressed Egypt's desire to see the Carter administration deal more forcefully with Israeli policies that the United States has described as illegal or ill-advised, such as the development of Jewish settlements in the occupied Arab territories.
The principal purpose od the meeting between Atherton and Kamel was for the American to convey to Egypt suggestions and recommendations given to him by the Israelis last week about the wording of the proposed declaration of principles. The Americans and the Egyptians stressed that these talks were exploratory and informal, not an official negotiating session in which proposals would be accepted or rejected.
"We did not present formal proposals," Atherton said afterward.
Informed officials here said there was no basis for reports emanating from Israel last weekend to the effect that progress had been made toward agreement on the text of this declaration, because until yesterday the Egyptians had not seen the suggested new wording. As expected, they responded cooly when they did.
"There are many points on which we do not see eye to eye," Kamel observed.
Well-placed sources said Sadat wants the declaration of principles to be sufficiently attractive that it would offer not just a basis for Egypt and Israel to go ahead with their negotiations but also an incentive to King Hussein of Jordan to enter the talks. That point has clearly not been reached.
Egypt is apparently prepared to amend its own proposed declaration of principles, which called for complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and self-determination for the Palestinians, to conform to the outlines of Carter's declaration after his meeting with Sadat in Aswan last month.
At Aswan, Carter said, "There must be withdrawal by Israel from territories occupied in 1967," but he did not specify all territories. He also said the Palestinians should "participate in the determination of their own future."
It is not known exactly how the suggested Israeli language differs from this, but informed officials said Israel is still reluctant to accept anything more than limited self rule for the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank.
The direct negotiations that resumed yesterday were in the joint military committee that Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin set up at their Chistmas summit conference.
Israel's defense minister, Ezer Weizman, arrived yesterday to head his country's delegation. With him were his wife and son, the latter badly wounded in the 1973 war. They were invited by Weizman's Egyptian counterpart, Minister of War Mohammed gamassy.
Weizman said the resumption of these talks was "another link in what unfortunately is a difficult road," and added that "a lot of problems lie ahead."
The purpose of the mlitary negotiations is to discuss Israeli security concerns and the terms under which Israel would withdraw its forces from the Sinai Peninsula. The talks broke down last month when Weizman said Israel wanted to keep not only its agricultural settlements in the Sinai but military forces to defend them and air bases as well.
That proposition infuriated Sadat and he called his delegation home from the political negotiations in Jerusalem. He agreed to resumption of the military talks only after Carter asked him to.
Sadat said again yesterday, as he has many times in the past, that he understood Israel's security concerns and was willing to consider almost any arrangement to allay them - demilitarized zones, troop limitation, United Nations troops, early warnings stations - but not to a continued Israeli presence on Egyptian soil.
Talking to reporters at his rest house on the Nile north of Cairo after seeing the visiting Americans, he said he had told Gamassy to "work with Weizman and reach whatever the Israelis ask for, except that it should not be at the expense of our land and sovereignty."