Egypt and Israel agreed yesterday to President Carter's proposal for a meeting here to revive the stalled Palestinian autonomy talks, but Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie warned that the talks are being jeopardized by Israel's plans for settlements in occupied Arab territories.
In a carefully timed speech, plainly part of the Carter administration's campaign to get the negotiations going again, Muskie cautioned both sides against "insensitive" actions that could damage chances for an agreement on Palestinian self-rule.
Although the speech was a restatement of past U.S. positions and contained no policy shifts, its delivery by the secretary at this time was a calculated slap at Israel's announced intention to build approximately 10 new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"For Israel unilaterally to place settlements on the West Bank and Gaza while negotiations are in progress runs counter to the very purpose of the negotiations -- to achieve an agreement all parties can support," Muskie said.
His deliberate emphasis on the sensitive settlements issue is certain to anger Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government. But despite the calculated risk involved in treading on Israeli sensibilities, the United States seemed to be succeeding in its month-long effort to get Egypt and Israel back to the negotiating table.
Even as Muskie spoke before the Washington Press Club, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat announced in Cairo his acceptance of the U.S. proposal conveyed to him on Sunday. In Israel, the government made no formal statement about the proposed meeting, but senior officials including the chief Israeli negotiator. Yosef Burg, informally made clear their willingness to attend.
"I believe setting a date is a small matter of only a telephone call," Burg said. Similarly, Begin told Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's foreign policy adviser, Richard Allen that the talks will be resumed within a short time.
Muskie, stressing the urgency of making a new start before the talks and imperiled by the growing violence and terrorism on the West Bank, said: "On behalf of the president, I call upon Israel and Egypt to resume the negotiations as soon as possible."
However, U.S. sources cautioned privately that the meeting -- tentatively expected to involve Burg, Egypt's chief negotiator, Mustafa Khalil, and Carter's special Mideast envoy, Sol M. Linowitz -- will not take place until late this month at the earliest.
Although there initially had been hopes of bringing the three together within the next few days, the sources said that idea had been abandoned in order to avoid a diplomatically sensitive overlap with the scheduled visit to the White House next Tuesday and Wednesday of Jordan's King Hussein.
Hussein, who so far has remained aloof from efforts to draw Jordan into the autonomy talks, originally was supposed to come here in April. But when the White House arrangedd separate meetings here with Sadat and Begin during the same month, Hussein angrily canceled his trip out of concern that the timing would make it appear he was endorsing the talks.
After considerable diplomatic effort by Washington, Hussein finally agreed to reschedule his visit. As a result, the sources said, the administration's desire not to ruffle his feelings with a repetition of the April incident meant that the autonomy meeting had to be put on hold until after he is gone.
In signaling their acceptance of the Washington meeting, Egyptian and Israeli leaders made clear that they don't expect to plunge immediately into renewed negotiations. Instead, they said, they regard the meeting as a vehicle for clearing up the obstacles that caused a breakdown in the talks.
Those center principally on the relationship of Jerusalem to the autonomy negotiations. Egyptian insistence that Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem be allowed to vote for the self-governing authority in the adjoining West Bank collided with Israel's concern that such a step would compromise its claims that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
The problem was compounded by Sadat's anger over the introduction in the Israeli parliament of pending legislation that would codify that position in Israeli law. Although details have not been made public, the United States now has worked out proposals that, if accepted by the other parties, would allow them to proceed with the negotiations while reserving their positions on Jerusalem.
In his first speech focusing on the Middle East since he became secretary of state, Muskie also sought to address the other tensions and problems besetting the talks. In addition to calling on Israel not to offend Arab sensibilities with its settlements policy, he denounced as "cowardly, reprehensible and savage" the terrorist incidents committed by Israeli and Palestinian extremists on the West Bank during recent weeks.
He also repeated past warnings to America's West European allies that the United States will oppose strenuously any effort by them to support calls for Palestinian "self-determination" or to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization into the negotiating process.
As part of Washington's carrot-and-stick attempt to divert the Europeans from that course, Muskie said the United States will not object to initiatives from other countries that are supportive of the autonomy negotiations. But, he stressed, "we will strongly oppose any efforts that would derail that process."
Although U.S. officials said the United States is not at this time offering any proposals for resolving the disputed issues in the talks, Muskie did reveal U.S. thinking on the crucial question of who should be responsible for security in the occupied territories after an agreement is reached.
In what amounted to taking a middle position between Israel's insistence on continued control of security and Egypt's call for turning it over to the Palestinians, Muskie said: "The Israeli defense force must be able to protect Israel from external attack," while a Palestinian "police force . . . pmust be able to assume its fair share of the burden for international security and public order."
In another development, the administration has offered American medical treatment to two Palestinian mayors injured last week in bombings on the West Bank.
The offer includes hospitalization in the United States if the mayors choose, U.S. officials said.
There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government.
The two majors are among the most nationalist Palestinian officials in the Israeli-occupied territory.