Presidential envoy Robert S. Strauss proposed to Egypt and Israel today that they put aside their argument over a formal agenda for the West Bank autonomy talks and order their negotiators to begin work immediately on specific arrangements for election of Palestinian councils within a year.
Strauss, participating for the first time in the five-week-old talks among Egypt, Israel and the United States, said his proposal marked a new American activism in this phase of Middle East peace efforts. He acknowledged that he was looking for progress on 'limited specific issues" to get the talks moving.
The Strauss proposal represents a request to Egypt to drop its insistence on a joint declaration of principles about Palestinian rights as the opening item in the negotiations, which grew out of the Camp David framework for Middle East peace agreements and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
"It is in the record," Strauss said of the Egyptians' proposed 17-point declaration. Israeli negotiators told Strauss earlier this week in Jerusalem that they reject the proposal point by point. "It could be addressed at another time," Strauss said, adding that there would be "a time and forum for each one of the issues" raised by Egypt and Israel "to go forward."
In the baseball imagery that Strauss has used himself, President Carter's special peace negotiator appeared to be trying for something between a sacrifice bunt and a single in his first turn at bat.
"It is the first half of the first inning and a long way to the seventh-inning stretch," Strauss had told reporters in cautioning them against placing high expectations in his first Middle East trip "to get a feel for these fellows, and to find areas of accord."
Since leaving Washington on Saturday, Strauss has been conducting bilateral meetings with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Jerusalem and then with President Anwar Sadat and other egyptian officials in Alexandria and Cairo. He will meet King Hussein in Jordan and King Khalid in Saudi Arabia before returning to Washington this weekend.
Today's format negotiating session got under way in a banquet hall in a downtown Alexandria hotel shortly before noon. Seated at a circular table decked with miniature flags of the three nations, three delegations greeted each other warmly.
Egyptain Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil and Israeli Interior Minister Josef Burg, heads of their respective delegations, both praised "the new impetus" Strauss' arrival could give the talks, which have made no substantive progress until now.
As described by Strauss to reporters before the morning session began, his proposal called for the setting up of working groups to consider "the modalities of electing self-governing authorities" on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip "and the rights, powers and duties of the authorities."
Egyptain sources said after the second session ended around 8 p. m. that Khalil had countered with a suggestion that four working groups, including one that would discuss a declaration of principles, be established. This round of the negotiations in scheduled to conclude Friday.
Strauss and Sadat indicated after their meeting Tuesday evening that they hoped progress here would eventually convince West Bank Palestinians to join the negotiations which have been attacked by many Palestinian mayors, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Jordan's King Hussein and other Arab leaders.
Questioned after his talk with Strauss, Sadat agreed with a reporter's characterization of October as "a psychological deadline" for some significant progress. Sadat urged the United States to open a dialogue immediately with the PLO.
Although Strauss has repeatedly said he would not meet with PLO members, other U.S. sources have indicated in Washington that an intense effort at getting private talks going with the Palestinians known to be sympathetic with the PLO is under way as a parallel to Strauss' highly visible public negotiating effort.
Oct. 6 will be the sixth anniversary of the Yom Kippur war that triggered the U.S. peace initiatives and led to Camp David and the treaty between Egypt and Israel. Sadat referred to October again in a speech to about 1,000 students yesterday near here when he said that part of the $1.5 billion worth of new arms the Carter administration has agreed to provide Egypt will be on display in a military parade then. CAPTION: Picture, ROBERT S. STRAUSS . . . modest expectations