Reversing his decision of 24 hours earlier, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said today he would not resume Palestinian autonomy talks with Israel for the time being. Egypt also accused Israel of not bargaining in good faith by adopting a law that perpetuates the designation of Jerusalem as the nation's capital.
Sadat's autonomy negotiators also accused Israel of "escalating repressive measures" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Until Israel "reviews its positions," the Egyptian communique said, "a suitable atmosphere" does not exist for resuming negotiations.
Although Deputy Prime Minister Butros Ghali called the deadlock "one of the important crises in the negotiations," he left open chances for talks at a future date. "We welcome any positive gesture which will help us solve this crisis," he said.
Sadat first broke off negotiations with the Israelis a week ago.Sources close to the negotiations said that Sadat's first suspension had apparently been intended as a tactic and had not come as a surprise to the Israeli and American negotiators. Today's return to his original position, however, was seen by these sources as a much more serious move that they could not readily explain.
In Tel Aviv, Israeli government officials withheld immediate comment on Egypt's reversal, but a well-placed source suggested that Cairo's move could be part of a "war of nerves" against Israel, United Press International reported.
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin told a group of European Jewish leaders in Jerusalem that the autonomy negotiations among Egypt, Israel and the United States would continue beyond the May 26 date set for completion in the Camp David accords.
"We didn't do anything to prolong the negotiations or to procrastinate," Begin said. "We will continue in good faith our negotiations about autonomy, and we hope to reach an agreement. Of course, the negotiations were suspended unilaterally by Egypt and the new date should be negotiated by all the three partners."
While Egypt and Israel have faced down other important crises during their long Middle East peace negotiations, the current dispute brings one of the central issues to the forefront.
Until now, Jerusalem has been left on a back-burner while both sides concentrated on a step-by-step resolution to the mechanics of establishing a system of self-government for the 1.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Camp David accords made no mention of Jerusalem. Although it has been clear for a long time that there is no basis for agreement between Egypt and Israel on this issue, the U.S. negotiators had hoped the subject could be held in abeyance until both sides were so close to accord on all others that scrapping the autonomy talks would be unthinkable.
Sadat's pique centers on the measure adopted in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) Monday, declaring Jerusalem to be Israel's capital just as he began a four-hour speech in the Egyptian People's Assembly. In his speech, Sadat said he had agreed to a request by President Carter to resume the autonomy negotiations. Last Friday, Sadat had abruptly suspended the talks after a fruitless round of negotiations in Tel Aviv, saying he wanted time for "reflections."
Ghali stressed that Sadat had not known of the Knesset measure before Sadat made his speech, and that the timing of the Israeli move was responsible for the latest impasse.
In a news conference, Ghali dismissed as irrelevant that Israel had formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and made the city the official capital of the nation. Since then, the Knesset has adopted several resolutions reaffirming that decision.
"There is a basic difference between previous resolutions and the law," Ghali said, in reference to articles in the measure prohibiting the government from concluding any agreements on Jerusalem as long as the resolution is in effect. The draft law would have to be rescinded before the government could alter its stand on Jerusalem.
"This will be a law of the country. But more than this, it is the timing of the resolution," Ghali said with irritation expressed in his voice. He said that when Sadat and the autonomy negotiators reevaluated Egypt's position earlier in the day, they found "this new basic element put us in front of a fait accompli.
"The position of Egypt is quite clear. We are in favor of negotiations, but we cannot have negotiations in the face of a fait accompli," he said. It "completely contradicts the spirit and letter of the Camp David accords."
Ghali denied that Egypt was setting forth, "preconditions" for Israel, saying "the only precondition is the will to . . . achieve a comprehensive peace."
The communique, which was approved by Sadat, said, "Israel has also escalated repressive measures in the occupied territories which contradict the spirit and agreement of creating suitable atmosphere as a means of alleviating the suffering of Palestinians in the area.
"In light of this attitude, Israel has made it difficult for a suitable atmosphere for resumption of negotiations under these circumstances," the communique said.
Ghali would not say what steps will be required of Israel before Egypt agrees to resume the autonomy talks.
He conceded that the two sides are deadlocked, but he stressed, "in spite of the existence of a deadlock, we want to continue the negotiations when we can."
He said he hoped the United States would play "a move important role" in the peace process, which appeared to be a veiled appeal on the Carter administration to exert more pressure on Israel.
Ghali said Sadad and his advisers would consider what other steps to take in the face of the Knesset's action, saying it violated international prohibitions aganist territorial expansion by a conquering nation. He said Egypt may refer the Knesset measure to the United Nations.
But Ghali said Egypt would not use the issue to slow down the normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel. "We have shown we want to accelerate the normalization . . . But all this has been received on the Israeli side by a completely negative attitude with regard to the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he said.
Ghali said he had telephoned Egypt's decision to U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Alfred Atherton, but that he had not informed Israel's ambassador here, Eliahu Ben-Elissar. He said Ben-Elissar could "hear it on the radio."