Israeli government officials are awaiting the arrival tommorrow of U.S. Ambassador -at- Large Alfred Atherton with the expectation that at least one of the four disputed provisions of a Middle East peace treaty could be resolved soon.
But the prospect of another ministerial-level peace conference and the possibility of another summit meeting -- raised by President Carter yesterday -- almost overshadowed in importance Atherton's mission here.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin said today that immediately after the visit by Atherton, the peace talks could be transferred to the foreign minister level. Government officials said Israel will press to have the talks resumed in the Middle East instead of in Washington to facilitate communications between the government and the negotiating team.
Atherton, accompanied by State Department legal adviser Herbert-Hansell and their aides, will meet this week with several sub-Cabinet Israeli officians in an attempt to break the impasse in the stalled peace negotiations.
The Israeli officials include: Meir Rosenne, legal adviser; Eliahu Ben-Elissar, director-general of the prime minister's office; Attorney Generall Yitzhak Zamir, and Ruth Lapiodot, a Hebrew University specialist in international law.
The focus of their talks, Israeli sources said, will be Egypt's demand for a mandatory review of the treaty in five years, and Egypt's attemp to dilute a treaty provision assuring that the pact would supersede mutual defense agreements between Egypt and other Arab states.
Put off for the time being will be the more difficult issues -- setting a target date for the start of autonomy for West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, and Egypt's attempt to make an exchange of ambassadors conditional on West Bank negotiations.
Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, apparently reflecting some impatience with the pace of the negotiations, is said to have urged his Cabinet colleagues not to become mired in legal niceties, but to start thinking in the broader perspective of Israel's position in the Middle East in light of the political instability in Iran.
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who for several weeks has maintained a low profile in the Cabinet discussions over the stalled peace talks, has joined Dayan in pressuring Begin and right-wing ministers to be more flexible in the technical disputes that have blocked a treaty signing.
A key to resolving the "priority of treaties" issue, Israeli officials sat, is drafting a definition of "aggression" that is acceptable to both Egypt and Israel.
Israel has resisted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's attempts to soften the provision because it is felt here that anytime after gaining back the Sinai peninsula, Egypt could apply the charge of aggression and back out of its commitments.
Israeli legal authorities say that technically, Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights or Israeli incursions into Lebanon to attack terrorist bases could be considered aggression by Egypt.
Defense Ministry officials and army commanders reportedly are concerned that Egypt's demand would, in effect, prevent Israel from launching a preemptive strike if it feels any Arab neighbor is about to attack.
Atherton is expected to bring to Jerusalem language that may satisfy Israel's objections and still meet Sadat's needs for some mechanism of guaranteeing a review of the security provisions in the Sinai after withdrawal of Israeli troops.