As it frenetically began preparing for a state visit this weekend by President Carter, Israel today indulged itself once again in savoring the prospect of peace with its Arab niighbors for the first time in its 30-year existence.
As recently as five months ago, after the Camp David summit, Israelis luxuriated in peace euhoria too early, and this time the mood is more cautious and restrained.
"Of course everyone is thinking about the possibility of Carter picking up [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and bringing him here to sign a peace treaty, but you notice nobody is talking about it," said an aide to Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Asked about the possibility, Begin's chief of staff, Eliahu Ben-Elissar replied, "We didn't get any news of that sort. But if President Sadat comes to Israel, of course he will be most welcome."
Uncertainty over the terms of the U.S. compromise proposals approved Monday by Israel's Cabinet, and over what commitments Carter has extracted from Sadat in advance of the dramatic Middle East visit continued to temper public statements by officials.
"I think this is a sign that a peace agreement is around the corner, but for peace itself... we still have to work rather hard and overcome a great deal of complications," said Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party in parliament.
With Begin taking the lead in Washington, by personally sending word to his government to refrain from debating the agreement in public, circumsoection was prevalent in official circles here, for a change.
But officials did describe as "intelligent speculation" reports that agreement was reached in Washington on a one-year deadline on nefotiations for Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories, with assurance of "good faith" efforts by Egypt and Israel to hold elections for West Bank and Gaza Strip Aravs as soon as possible.
The negotiations for autonomy reportedly would begin one month after the signing of an Egyptian-Israeli treaty, under the terms of a joint letter approved by the Israeli Cabinet.
Previously, Egypt had wanted firm dates for the start of autonomy and for elections, while Israel had wanted none.
Also it was understooe that Israel agreed to modifications in the way the treaty deals with the priority of possibly conflicting alliances.
Egypt had demanded that the treaty wording make clear that Egypt retained its mutual defense pact obligations with other Arab states, even if they were invaded by Israel.
Begin repeatedly said Israel could not sign a treatly with such a provision and Israel called for a declaration that the Israeli-Egyptian treaty would take priority over Cairo's other treaties.
It was understood that the new version contains nothing that would annul the priority of the Egyptian-Israeli agreement but also nothing that would abolish Egypt's other treaties.
The compromise was said to also include assurances that while the treaty is part of a comprehensive solution to the Middle East problem, nothing in it can diminish the commitment by both parties to implement all its provisions, regardless of "action or inaction" by other parties -- meaning Jordan and the Palesinians.
Those compromises, government sources said, made the U.S. package palpable enough to Begin and the Israeli negotiating team to recommend its acceptance to the Cabinet. The Cabinet on Monday approved the package 9 to 3, wigh 4 abstentions.
Still unclear is whether there has been a resolution to the dispute over whether Egypt and Israel will exchange ambassadors after Israel completes the first phase of its with-drawal from the Sinai Peninsula, which it captured during the 1967 war.
It was also not known what defense guarantees, if any, were made by the United States to Israel to induce Begin to approve the compromise package.
Cabinet officials have refused to be drawn into discussins of specifics of the package, noting that disclosure before Carter's visit to Cairo could upset the negotiations.
Asked about the possibility of a defense agreement, Peres said, "It would be surprising if Begin gave such an answer without consulting the government or the parliament."
The parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee met today expecting to receive a report by Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin on the Carter-Begin talks, but Yadin told the committee he would not give such a report now. The committee has been th source of numerous leaks, and Begin is said to have given instructions to withhold details of the talks from it for the time being.
Yadin said tonight however, that no treaty will be signed by Israel without a full debate and approval by the parliament.
Tonight, the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, headed by Moshe Arens, issued a statement calling the government's failure to report fully on the Washington talks "a grave offense against the committee, parliament and the state's legal and democratic foundations." It requested a full report immediately, and said it will discontinue its meetings until it receives one.
Meanwhile, officials began making elaborate preparations for Carter's arrival, drawing upon their experience from Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977.
Carter, who visited here in 1974 as Grorgia governor, will be only the second incumbent American president to travel to Israel. Richard Nixon visited here in 1974, sex weeks before he resigned.
Officials said Carter is expected to address parliament Monday, and that his schedule will include a call on Israeli President Yitzhak Navon, a state dinner and "most probably" visits to Yad Vashem, Israel's mounument to the Holocaust victims, and to Theodore Herzl's tomb. Carter also has asked to visit a Christian church during his stay.
Zeev Chafets, director of the Israeli government press office, said between 2,000 and 3,000 reporters and photographers are expected to cover the visit. About 2,500 covered Sadat's visit.
Government officials generally predicted a warm welcome for Carter by Israelis, although it is expected that ultranationalist groups opposed to the dismantling of Jewish civilian settlements in the Sinai will demonstrate against him.
Ben-Elissar, who is in charge of preparations for the visit, said any group could apply to the police, for a permit to demonstrate ane one normally would be granted after taking security into consideration.
"I think any group that wants to demonstrate chould be allowed to demonstrate. We have a democratic country. This is the way things happen in the United States," he said.
Carter has been warmly praised in Israeli newspaper editorials. Davar, the Labor federation daily, said the trip is "a dramatic demonstration of the vital interest that Washington attributes to the positive conclusion of the prolonged negotiations."