Egypt, without illusions about the difficulty of the negotiations on the future of the Palestinians, is going into them with limited objectives that would put off the most intractable issues to a later phase.
The Egyptians face a Herculean task a extracting enough from the Israelis to entice the Palestinians into a later stage of the negotiations and secure the cooperation of other Arab states. The apparently are going to deal with it by trying to avoid the issues on which Egypt is not prepared to compromise and concentrate on those where Israel may be prepared to make some concessions.
Authoritative Egyptian sources say this county's negotiators will concerntrate on maximizing the jurdisdiction of the autonomous Palestinian government to be set up next year, on securing the right of the Arabs of East Jerusalem to participate in it and on putting the elections under international supervision.
They hope to secure Israeli cooperation on these issues and mute Arab criticism by holding back on diplomatic relations, open borders and other aspects of peaceful relations until there is progress in the negotiations, according to authoritative sources.
Contrary to what was announced when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was here in early April, the border will not open this weekend, Egyptian officials says, partly because Egypt is feeling the economic and political boycott imposed by the other Arabs and partly because Israeli statements and actions since the peace treaty was signed have indicated to Egypt that the Israelis are not going to be forthcoming on the Palestinian issue.
The Egyptians stress that they are not reneging on their commitment to normal relations - but are going to parcel out implementation according to what happens in the negotiations.
Officially, Egypt seeks an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and return of East Jerusalem to Arab sovereignty. Israel says both are cut of the question.
The Egyptians recognize that negotiations on those issues imply the possibility of compromise. Since neither Palestinians nor other Arab countries would accept compromises negotiated by Egypt on those issues, the Egyptian aim is to defer them and work on increasing the scope of Palestinian autonomy.
The hope is that the Palestinians themselves, and perhaps Jordon, would enter some later stage of the talks and take responsibility for making the compromises.
Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil and his negotiating team base their approach on the Camp David agreements. Those oblige Israel to negotiate immediately on Palestinian autonomy but provide that "negotiations to determine the final status of the West Bak and Gaza" may be put off for as long as three years.
Egypt rejects out of hand Israel's limited local autonomy plan for residents of the occupied territories - a "nonstarter," one member of the negotiating team called it - and assumes that the United States also does.
That means, in the Egyptian perspective, that the Israelis will be obliged to yield the most in the first year of the talks. Then, the Egyptians hope, as Palestinians elected to the autonomous government take their place in the negotiations and the Israelis become psychologically attuned to peace with the Arabs, it will be time to tackle the overriding issues. As President Anwar Sadat has often said, he is not going to negotiate for the Palestinians; he is only going to make it possible for them to negotiate for themselves.
"We know these negotiations are going to be the most difficult we have ever had," an informed official said. "But there is no point in writing them off beforehand.You have to get past the initial stage where they present their plan and we present ours and both are rejected in strong language."
Stung by other Arabs' bitter rejection of the treaty, Egyptians say they recognize their position going into the talks is not what they hoped it would be. The Israelis, with their settlements in the occupied territories and their raids into Lebanon, are making it look like Sadat has been taken for a ride, some Egyptians feel.
To make matters worse this country has been unable to come up with a single credible Palestinian, from any faction, to work alongside Egyptians and validate their claim to be working in the Palestinian interest.
The Egyptians have no choice but to go ahead, hoping for the best in the negotiations and counting on the American team headed by Robert Strauss to support them.
"We have no other alternative but to go ahead on the way to achieve a complete settlement," Sadat told a group of American Jews last week.
The general outline of Egypt's initial posture in the talks was revealed in a communique published by the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. It said; "Full Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza is the first step toward independence and a transitional stage before the Palestinian people claim their full right to self-determination."
It adds that the "elected Palestinian authority should be converted into a constituent assembly which suggests the form of government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and participates with Egypt and Israel in the negotiations leading to self-determination."
Egypt proposes in its working paper four standing committees for the first phase of the negotiations. One would deal with building "trust between Egypt and Israel" by ending Israeli settlements, arranging for Palestinians to return to their homes and allowing political activity in the occupied territories. None of these is likely to win favor with the Israelis, and the Egyptians know that.
The other three committees would deal with the issues Egypt does want to press, namely election procedures, the jurisdiction of the "self-ruling body," and redeployment of Israeli troops in the occupied territories.
The Egyptians do not yet have an answer to how they can organize elections without candidates, which would certainly be the case if the elections were held today. Despite the claims of some Egyptian officials to be in secret contact with Palestinians about these negotiations, authoritative sources say the Palestinian boycott of the whole process is so effective that even personal Palestinian friends of Egyptian officials will not discuss it with them.
Egyptian officials familiar with the negotiations say they assume they will have American support on the fundamental issues in the first phase and perhaps even on the eventual crucial question of sovereignty over the West Bank.
There is some doubt, however, whether President Carter is prepared to push the Israelis in these negotiations as the American electoral campaign draws closer.
Thus Sadat and the Egyptians are in a position where they cannot go back but it is not at all clear what will happen as they go forward. Thoughtful Egyptians can see the possibility that a year from now, the negotiations will be stalled, their ostracism by other Arabs will be in full effect, the Americans will be paralyzed by the election campaign and the Israelis will be putting more settlements on the West Bank.
It is a nightmare scenario that they do not like to think about. But it increases the pressure on them to make these negotiations productive. CAPTION: Egyptian troops pull into El Arish, which will be returned to Egypt today.