Israel's Cabinet meeting on the first anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit here, recessed without making any decision on the faltering Middle East peace process yesterday, as the country was hit by a new wave of terrorism signaling Palestinian rejection of the peace talks.
Four persons were killed and more than 40 injured when a powerful bomb exploded aboard a crowded tourist bus in an outbreak of violence, apparently keyed to the anniversary.
Another terrorist bomb exploded outside a movie theater in Jaffa, injuring two persons, and a third bomb was defused by the police demolition experts as a busy downtown Jerusalem intersection moments before it was set to detonate.
Israeli Army troops broke up a noisy demonstration of Palestinian students in Ramallah on the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River after the protesters, who had been shouting slogans condemning Sadat, blocked a main throughfare with stone barricades and burning tires.
In Jenin, north of the militant West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian activists stopped cars and handed out leaflets condemning Sadat and the Camp David peace agreements.
The series of disturbances and bombings underscored the difficulty the Israeli government is encountering in its attempts to reach a consensus among its members in the on-and-off negotiations for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and a solution to the problem of self-determination for the 1.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Compounding the government's uneasiness was a demonstration last night in Tel Aviv, at which cars carrying Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman to a political meeting were pelted with stones and eggs by angry ultra-nationalist settlers from the West Bank.
As recently as a month ago, Begin and Sadat talked expectantly of signing a peace treaty in Cairo and Jerusalem exactly one year after Sadat's visit to the Israeli capital.
After five hours of debate yesterday, however, Begin recessed the Cabinet meeting until Tuesday amid reports that he and several hardline Likud coalition ministers are adamantly opposed to a U.S. compromise formula that would set a one-year timetable for holding elections for governing councils in the occupied territories.
Begin told the party members that Israel rejects the Egyptian and American-proposed timetables, but is prepared to accept the Camp David agreements "and is prepared to implement as it is signed."
Several hours after Begin's speech, the government press office called reporters and directed their attention to a television commentary to the effect that Israel is ready to sign the draft treaty - "including the controversial linkage phrase."
Begin has been under increasing pressure from his own right wing Herut Party, whose leadership has interpreted recent Egyptian demands as an attempt to obtain now what they could not win at the Camp David summit conference.
That pressure was dramatized briefly last night in an egg-throwing demonstration against the prime minister as he arrived at a meeting of the central committee of the Herut Party to explain the government position.
As Begin's car pulled up to party headquarters in Tel Aviv, about 300 youths, many of them West Bank settlers, shouted "traitor" at the prime minister, pounded his car and threw eggs and stones before security agents hustled the prime minister inside the meeting hall.
Begin had been expected to give a lengthy defense of his government's peace policy but he only made a brief statement calling upon Egyot to give up its recent demands for a West Bank-Gaza autonomy timetable, increased Egyptian presents in Gaza Strip and the release of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.
Party members said Begin looked drawn and tense as he urged Egypt to live up to the Camp David commitments. As he left demonstrators outside - some dressed in Arab garb - warned passerby of the dangers of autonomy for Palestinians.
When Weizman arrived minutes later, his car, too, was hit by stones and eggs before police intervened and broke up the crowd. Many of the protesters were members of Gush Emunim (Faith Bloc), which was Jewish settlements on the West Bank and which opposes Palestinian autonomy.
Government sources said the cabinet, which is scheduled to resume its meeting on Tuesday, deliberately avoided reaching any conclusions yesterday in anticipation of the reaction by the Herut central committee. The party leadership has been waiting since the Camp David summit to hold a general debate on Israel's peace policy, and some members have called for Begin's removal as prime minister.
Informed sources said the Cabinet considered three alternatives yesterday: U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's proposal for a one-year timetable for West Bank-Ga a elections; Egypt's proposal for Gaza Strip elections in six months; and a suggestion by right-wing Cabinet members to recess the peace talks indefinately.
Dayan and Weizman, who head the negotiating team, are known to support the American compromise proposal, but Begin was said to be firmly opposed to any linkage between the Egyptian-israeli bilateral treaty and the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as any set timetable for implementation of Palestinian autonomy.
Government sources said the Cabinet is also prepared to reject outright reported Egyptian demands for release of Palestinian political prisoners and for the installation of an Egyptian police force in the Gaza Strip.
The Cabinet yesterday was said to be considering sending Dayan and Weizman back to Washington with a proposal to accept the draft treaty as phrased before the new Egyptian demands, with a vague declaration of inent replacing the specific linkage between the bilateral peace treaty and the future of the West Bank and Gaza.
While Begin was on a 12-day visit to the United States and Canada, the Cabinet rejected a similar peace formula, which contained the linkage in a preamble but called for no specific timetable for elections. It was after that session that the Egyptian presented their new demands.
Cabinet secretary Aryeh Naor yesterday said the minisers will "continue and conclude" the debate on Tuesday, indicating that Dayan and Weizman would be returning to Washington soon after.
Also appearing at last night's Herut Party meeting was Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who said he favors a return to the original Camp David accord, and who urged the government to continue strengthening Jewish settlements on the West Bank.