Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stood his ground yesterday in a dispute with the Carter administration over a mortorium on Jewish settlements on the West Bank, leaving application of the Camp David summit agreements in a temporary limbo.
Hopes that the dispute could be settled yesterday faded when Begin said he would have to return to Israel and consult with the other Israeli leaders, including the delegation that helped him negotiate the agreements, before he could come to final agreement on the moratorium, U.S. officials said.
Begin leaves the United States for Israel tomorrow. While the Israeli and U.S. governments appear to be resolved, neither gave any signs yesterday of softening its position on the moratorium, which President Carter felt had been settled when he, Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat left Camp David Sunday.
Begin continued to come under sharp criticism from the far right in Israel yesterday for agreeing to any change on the settlement policy.
Evidently unfazed by a reported private U.S. expression of concern to Israel over the impact his pointed public pronouncements could have on the peace accords' chances. Begin told a Jewish group in New York yesterday that he had gained major concessions from Sadat and Carter twice by threatening to stalemate the 13-day summit meeting unless they yielded.
The concessions involved deleting a phrase that could have implied that Israel might eventually give the Gordon Heights back to Syria, and the statis of East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, it was learned that Jerusalem had also open the subject of protacted bargaining between Begin and Carter, with the Israeli primer minsiter again prevailing after threatening to derail the negotiations.
In sharp contrast to the post-mortem approach taken by Begin, Carter and Sadat yesterday emphasized the momentum for peace they feel the two "framework" agreements worked out at Camp David have established.
Speaking to a group of New Jersey Democrats in Atlantic City, Carter said that he had obtained agreement from Sadat to start three-way talks immediately at the ambassadorial level to select a site for discussions on the peace treaty that Sadat has agreed to sign with Israel by Dec. 17, if the Israel Knesset will vote to dismantle the Israeli settlements in the Sinai peninsula.
Sadat left Washington yesterday for Morocco. Tuesday night he told a meeting of Egyptians living in Washington that he and Begin had agreed privately to sign the peace treaty within two months instead of the three-month period specified in the accords.
Sadat pledged that when Egypt gets the Sinai peninsula back in three years, he would release large numbers of soldiers from the armed forces and send them as civilians into the Sinai to "make the desert green again."
While centered on the West Bank settlements issue, the dispute between the administration and Begin also threatened to have an impact on the arrangements for dismantling the Israeli settlements in the Sinai, which Sadat has said is a prerequisite for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The three leaders sought to avoid procedural and substantive roadblocks at the secret talks by agreeing to leave five highly controversial or technical subjects out of the agreements and governing them instead by an exchange of 10 letters that would spell out details on these issues.
The letters were due to be exchange within "a day or two" of the formal signing of the framework agreements Sunday night, but that schedule was shelved when it became apparent that Begin and Carter had significantly differing interpretations of the Israeli leader's pledge to suspend the establishment of new Israeli settlements on the West Bank for the period of negotiations spelled out in the formal agreements.
Begin now indicates that he intended to limit the moratorium to the three-month period of negotiations for an Egyptian-Israeli treaty. The U.S. position is that Begin commit himself not only to the three-month freeze, but also to arrangments that will give Arab negotiators an effective veto over Israeli settlements during the five-year interim period of "full autonomy" the agreements establish for the West Bank.
Documents were made available to reporters in Washington yesterday to rebut Begin's interpretation.
These documents, whose source could not be identified under the ground rules, were said to be portions of the unpublished understandings between the three leaders on the issue of settlements. The provision that future Israeli settlements would be decided by the "final status" negotiating terms was added by President Carter in a notation that appears in his own handwriting.