Setting the stage for tough negotiations on the Palestinian question that will follow the signing of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Egypt wasted no time today in criticizing and rejecting Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's vision of where those talks should lead.
Only a few hours after Begin told the Israeli parliament that Israel would never withdraw to its 1967 borders, never permit the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and never return East Jerusalem, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mobarak and Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil chastised him and said agreements already reached imply the opposite.
Since Begin was responding to the first salvo in this skirmish, fired by Khalil in a speech on Saturday that was rebroadcast here today, it appeared that both sides were laying out the positions they are going to take entering the post-treaty negotiations and placating their respective constituencies in the meantime.
Egypt, anxious to demonstrate to its Arab critics that this is not a separate peace and that it will aid the Palestinian cause, is claiming that the Camp David agreements, the treaty and related documents together require Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders and to grant full self-rule to the Palestinians. Khalil said so in his speech on Saturday.
Begin, trying to shepherd the treaty through the Knesset and minimize concessions on the Palestinian question, is taking the opposite tack. Opening debate on the treaty in the Knesset today, he addressed Khalil by name in rejecting Khalil's claims about what the future holds in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
A few hours later, the Egyptians responded.
Mobarak told reporters in Bonn that "I consider this very strange." He said, "One has to wonder" whether Begin's comments "can really be useful" at this stage in the process.
Then the Foreign Ministry here released a statement from Khalil, who, as premier and foreign minister, has done most of the talking for Egypt this past week while President Anwar Sadat is on one of his periodic retreats from public view.
Khalil called Begin's remarks "an inappropriate start for an era in which we hope everybody will work toward laying down a sound basis for a just and durable peace in the Middle East and for reaching a comprehensive settlement."
The Egyptians have argued that the agreements already reached settle in the Arabs' favor the famous unanswered question of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 -- whether Israel is to withdraw from some or all of the territories captured in the 1967 war. Khalil said Saturday that "East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank borders of 1967 and Israel has agreed to withdraw to the 1967 borders."
Today he said that Israel's complete withdrawal "is an honest application of Resolution 242 in all its principles and goals, foremost of which was the nonacquisition of territory through war, which is the same principle applying to all the occupied Arab territories, foremost of which is Arab Jerusalem."
In a reference to Begin's assertion that autonomy in the occupied territories would apply to the individuals who reside there but not to running the affairs of the territory as a whole, Khalil said that the Camp David agreements required a solution to the Palestinian question that would recognize "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people." Therefore, he said, "it is this people which will determine its future" according to the Camp David formulas.
Egyptian officials, throughout the peace negotiations, have acknowledged privately that they understand Israel's position on East Jerusalem and they have never expected the Israelis to simply give it up. Egypt will probably settle for some cosmetic formula that gives Arab Moslems proforma control over the Islamic holy places.
As for an independent Palestinian state, Sadat said even before he began the peace process with his trip to Jerusalem that any Palestinian entity carved out of the occupied territories would have to be constitutionally linked to Jordan.
But the Egyptians say that what they want now is a period of several months in which they can be seen to make some progress in the talks with Israel over these questions. They hope that this will defuse Arab criticism and include some Palestinians to join the negotiating process.
In that context, they say, they do not find Begin's comments helpful, and they argue that it is just as bad for Israel as it is for Egypt to have all other Arabs boycotting the negotiations over Palestinian autonomy.