Israel and Egypt have accepted an invitation from the State Department to send representatives to Washington this week for high-level talks on resolving a U.S.-Israeli dispute over a Sinai peace-keeping force.
The State Department announced Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance's invitation yesterday morning. In Jerusalem, the Israeli cabinet announced that Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who has taken charge of the peace-keeping issue while Prime Minister Menachem Begin is hospitalized, will attend.
No immediate word came from Cairo on who would represent Egypt at the three-way talks, although officials there said they were willing to attend.
Dayan and the Egyptian representative are expected to meet with Vance, and President Carter's special Mideast negotiator, Robert S. Strauss, may return to Washington from vacation when the talks commence.
The U.S.-Israeli dispute centers on the 4,000-member armed U.N. Emergency Force (UNEF) currently separating Israeli and Egyptian troops in the Sinai. The 1973 U.N. Security Council mandate that established the force expired last Tuesday, and the U.S. chose not to seek an extension in the face of a Soviet veto threat.
Instead, U.S. and Soviet officials reached a compromise that would replace the UNEF troops with a smaller unit of unarmed U.N. observers currently stationed along truce lines on Israel's Lebanese and Syrian borders. U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim suggested expanding the observer force by a few hundred men, and the Soviets agreed not to object.
But the Israeli cabinet, in a surprise vote last Sunday, rejected the compromise observer force as an inadequate replacement for the UNEF troops. Israeli officials maintain that, the Mideast peace treaty signed on the White House lawn last March obligates the United States to replace the UNEF force with another multinational military force.
However, the administration interprets the treaty as committing the United States to form an alternative force at the end of three years, or not until 1982. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE
Beyond the quarreling over treaty interpretations is the larger issue of U.S. guarantees to Israel and the administration's commitment to the guarantees.
A number of other recent developments involving the Palestinian issue have exacerbated tension between the governments of Carter and Begin, threatening to sour overall U.S.-Israeli relations.
Most notably, last week Arab diplomats at the United Nations began planning a possible revision of Security Council Resolution 242, which, in effect, calls for the recognition of Israel as a precondition to peace.
The proposed resolution essentially would make it easier for the Palestine Liberation Organization to recognize Israel.The United States has consistently stated, and it was reiterated by a State Department official last week, that the United States might open a dialogue with the PLO if it would recognize Israel's right to exist.
Special Middle East negotiator Strauss said yesterday that he has been "getting a lot of signals" suggesting that the United States soon will be able to bring moderate Palestinians into the peace process, a move certain to set off a wave of official protest from Israel.
By calling the top-level meeting this week, the administration appears to have acceded at least in part to Israel's desire to have the peacekeeping force dispute resolved with Vance personally.
Dayan had wanted Vance to go to the Middle East, after the Israeli cabinet voted not to accept the U.S.-Soviet compromise for replacing the UNEF force with the observer team. However Vance is reported to have rejected Dayan's request almost immediately, and sources said he did not believe the issue important enough to justify his going to the Mideast.
The maneuvering over who would meet where and at what level reflects what is seen as Israel's desire to get the U.S. back in the peace process at the highest levels, something the administration has been reluctant to do.
The Israelis have objected to the U.N. observers in the Sinai because the truce observers are unarmed, the force is smaller than the UNEF unit, and the observers come directly under the control of the U.N. secretary general, instead of under Security Council mandate.
U.S.-Israeli relations were further strained last week by Israeli jet raids into Lebanon and the State Department's condemnation of those raids. Also, the administration announced plans last week to sell up to 300 M60 tanks to Jordan, despite Israeli protests.