Egypt, Israel and the United States opened the fifth round of Palestinian autonomy talks tonight under the shadow of strong Israeli resentment over recent U.S. moves to draw Palestinians into the negotiations.
Israel's dispute with Washington nearly eclipsed the discussions that began here with a private meeting between the chief Egyptian negotiator, Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil, and his Israeli counterpart, Interior Minister Josef Burg.
At an Israeli Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, a sternly worded message expressing Israel's anger was drawn up for transmission to Washington.
Besides casting a pall over the latest talks, apparent strains between the United States and Israel indicated that progress toward resolving differences over the thorny issue of Pelestinian self-rule ultimately will depend on major decisions yet to be taken at a higher level in Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem.
The Israeli Cabinet message came in response to what Israel perceives as signs of a damaging shift in American Middle East Policy. Although the contents of the message were not disclosed, it was understood to contain objections to indirect U.S. overtures to the Palestine Liberation Organization and to new arms sales and assistance to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli sources said the message for President Carter contains a firm declaration that Israel views with "gravity" the trend in U.S. positions in the talks with Egypt despite reassurances from Washington including a personal telephone call from Carter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The situation is considered troubling, particularly by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, who has postponed a trip to the United States during which he was to press the Israeli case on the U.S. government and American public opinion. Dayan and Begin, who kept in touch from his home where he is convalescing, played the principle roles in drafting the message for Washington, the sources said.
Despite the reportedly tough language and implied rejection of U.S. reassurances, the Cabinet declined suggestions from hard-line ministers that Israel withdraw from the autonomy talks or freeze its pullout from the Egyptian Sinai until U.S. intentions are cleared up, the sources added.
This, along with the decision to keep the message private, suggested that Begin's government wants to avoid letting the increasingly tense disagreement with Washington grow into something more serious.
At the same time, the Cabinet resportedly decided that Israel should present its complaints to the American public as a way to keep the Carter administration from veering away from support of Israel.
Dayan's explanation for the discord, the Israeli sources said, included suggestions that the energy crisis and the need for Arab oil was playing a part in a review of U.S. policy on the Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Part of the review reportedly includes an effort to amend U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 - the basis of Middle East peacemaking since it was adopted at the end of the 1967 war - to include reference to Palentinian rights. This would be designed to win PLO acceptance of the resolution, and thereby recognition of Israel, so that Palestinians could be brought into the negotiations.
But an Israeli Cabinet spokesman reiterated that, even if the PLO endorses Resolution 242, Israel will never negotiate with the Palestinian guerrilla group. The PLO, headed by Yasser Arafat, was referred to by Cabinet secretary Aryeh Naor as "this syndicate of murderers," and Begin repeatedly has called its members terrorists.
Aside from the 242 effort, the Israelis are reported upset at the disagreement over replacing the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai, a decision by Washington to sell up to 300 M60 tanks to Jordan and increase assistance to the Saudi military, and Carter's recent comments comparing Palestinian goals with those of the U.S. civil rights movement.
The dispute over Sinai observer forces is regarded here as a sign Washington is willing to tamper with the treaty to please Egypt, Israeli sources said. The willingness to cooperate with the Saudi and Jordanian armed forces is seen, they said, as a reward to two Arab nations that are boycotting the Camp David peace piccess. Carter's comments, the Israeli sources added, could be just a slip, but they also could betray a shift toward a more favorable view of Palestinian demands.
In addition, the Israelis have expressed surprise and anger at suggestions reportedly made by U.S. negotiator James Leonard last week at a meeting of Egyptian, U.S. and Israeli working groups. These included a proposal that the self-rule to be set up in Gaza and the West Bank comprise legislative, executive and judicial powers and that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem vote in elections for the self-governing body.
These ideas clashed sharply with the Israeli concept of the autonomy agreed on in the peace treaty signed March 26. In the Israeli view, the "full autonomy" called for in the pact should be severely limited to such routine government functions as health, education and housing and would derive its authority from a continuing Israeli military tutelage.
Voting by Palestinians in East Jerusalem would conflict with the Israeli position that all Jerusalem has been annexed and therefore is not part of the talks on West Bank autonomy or of whatever self-rule is set up there for Palestinians.
In an apparent effort to avoid more such friction, Leonard went out of his way to look like a bystander as the talks resumed in this northern Israeli port city tonight. He did not attend the opening meeting between Burg and Khalil and told reporters he had only a vague idea of what was being discussed.
The U.S. role in the talks nevertheless was underlined, at least symbolically, by the presence in the Haifa harbor of the U.S. aircraft carrier Independence and the sight of white-uniformed American naval officers in the hilltop Carmel Hotel where the talks were being held.
The negotiations were scheduled to begin in earnest Monday morning after tonight's banquet and private contacts. Contrary to the previously announced plan, they were set to run through Tuesday, apparently put back by a day to make room for the Israeli Cabinet session.