The United States presented a new formula for breaking the impasse in Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations to the top leaders of those two countries yesterday, in an intensive diplomatic drive featuring the personal intervention of President Carter.
Carter's intervention, in the form of separate telephone discussions with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, followed lengthy meetings Saturday at which U.S. and Israeli diplomats worked out tentive language for bridging the gap on the most important roadlock to a Cairo-Jerusalem peace treaty.
The touchy and crucial problem is that of linking the bilateral peace accord, on the one hand, and promised progress toward resolving the future status of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, on the other hand. Egypt is attempting to maximize this link, and Israel to minimize it.
The U.S. compromise is reported to be a new one-page version of a draft letter of the West Bank-Gaza question to be exchanged between the two sides at the time of the signing of the peace treaty between them. Israeli sources said the U.S.-initiated draft letter reflects Israel's agreement to the principle of resolving the West Bank-Gaza future but does not include the specific dates and details that had been proposed by Egypt.
A 3 1/2 hour meeting between Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, which ended at 1 a.m. yesterday produced what U.S. sources described as tentative agreement on the question of linkage as well as progress toward resolving two lesser issues. The Vance-Dayan meeting followed a day of U.S. meetings with members of the Israeli and Egyptian delegations.
However, the U.S. sources emphasized that the language worked out by Vance and Dayan on the West Bank-Gaza question had not been approved by Egyptian President Sadat, nor by Israeli Prime Minister Begin and his cabinet.
Carter's telephone call to Sadat, which followed a report yesterday morning from Vance, was believed to be a bid by the American leader to obtain Sadat's approval of the compromise.
There was no immediate indication of Sadat's response. In Cairo, the official Middle East News Agency reported that Sadat will meet today with Vice President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil to discuss Carter's proposal, and that U.S. Ambassador Hermann Eilts might be called in to see Sadat afterward.
Several hours after speaking with Sadat, Carter reached Begin by telephone in Toronto, where the Israeli leader was winding up a six-day visit to Canada. Begin was expected to receive a more detailed report on the latest developments from Vance in a previously scheduled meeting at New york's Kennedy airport last night during a stopover on his Canada-to-Israel journey.
According to Israeli officials, the cabinet is scheduled to take up pending issues in the peace negotiations in Jerusalem tomorrow, and to hold a full-dress session on the matter with Israel's top negotiators on Thursday. Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weirman are expected to leave Washington early in the week to return home for the Thursday session. If the major questions can be resolved and approved then, the Israeli negotiators will not return to Washington.
Meeting without Begin, Dayan or Weizman, the Israeli cabinet yesterday rejected the Egyptian demands for detailed, explicit linkage and timetables regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to news agencies, the cabinet also heard a potentially controversial proposal to build a city in the Gaza Strip to house Jews who would leave the Sinai peninsula when it is returned to Egypt.
In addition to the proposed exchange of letters to accompany the peace treaty, the West Bank-Gaza issue may also be addressed briefly in the preamble to the treaty. Preamble language to this effect was negotiated in Washington by representatives of the United States and two Mideast nations, but was subsequently opposed by the Israeli cabinet.
Outside Mecca, the Moslem holy city in Saudi Arabia, Palestine Liberation Organization leader yasser Arafat called on the world's 500 million Moslems to enlist in a "holy war" to wrest the old sector of Jerusalem and its ancient Moslem shrines from the Israelis. Arafat was speaking to a vast crowd of pilrgims on their annual journey to Mecca.
Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Ziaul-Haq, addressing the throng, was quoted by Associated Press as saying: "If the two million Moslem pilgrims who came here this year decide to march unarmed, barefoot and naked to liberate Jerusalem, then no power on earth can stand in their way."