The Israeli parliament's defiant vote yesterday to keep a unified Jerusalem as its capital has forced a dangerous and unwanted decision on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, according to knowledgeable diplomats.
With suspicion increasingly poisoning relations between Egypt and Israel, diplomats are predicting that Sadat wil feel forced to suspend negotiations on Palestinian autonomy as he did in May.
If he broke off the talks the first time, when the Jerusalem bill was only introduced, they say, he will have to break them off now that it has actually passed the parliament, despite the danger of a long, possibly fatal delay.
Other possible retaliation, these diplomats add, would be recall of Egyptian Ambassador Saad Murtada from Tel Aviv and a request that Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar leave Cairo. High Egyptian officals including Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, discount this step, however.
Ali said last night that he, Sadat and Vice President Hosni Mubarak would review their options and notify Ben-Elissar of Egypt's decision about the talks Saturday. The first top-level autonomy negotiations since May are due to begin monday in Alexandria.
"Almost every option is being considered," a spokesman for Mubarak said today. "This is no joke."
[In Washington, Carter administration officials took a low-key approach, waiting to see how Egypt will react. State Department spokesman John Trattner, calling the Israeli vote "an unhelpful development," said U.S. officials were still studying the text of the bill.]
[Trattner also said the United States considered the Israeli bill as having no "legal effect" on the status of Jerusalem, whose Arab sector Israel captured in 1967, and noted the U.S. position that the Camp David accords call for the city's status to be determined by negotiations.]
[In Amman, Jordan called for a united Arab front against the Israeli decision, denouncing it as "contrary to international principles and laws as well as U.N. resolutions," Agence France-Presse reported.]
The new tension over the Jerusalem vote follows a month of increasingly acrimonious public exchanges between Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and strained private comments by lower officials on the state of peacemaking.
No one is talking about danger to the 16-month-old peace treaty. But both sides feel the other has hardened its position in the talks and on efforts to build normal bilateral relations. As a result, the effort toward normal ties that got off to such a fast start have slowed, and Israeli officials say they feel a more explicit linkage between Egypt's attitude toward them and lack of progress in the autonomy talks.
The strain gave rise two weeks ago to what observers judged was the toughest, most personal exchange between Begin and Sadat since the treaty. Sadat told an interviewer that the Israeli government did not genuinely want peace -- in effect questioning Begin's veracity. Begin immediately responded with a detailed and bitter rebuttal, accusing Sadat of trying to alter the Camp David accords.
Previously, both leaders had been careful to avoid such personal jousting in public, emphasizing instead the friendship they said they had built up in eight formal meetings since Sadat's November 1977 trip to Jerusalem.
Now, however, Sadat is saying he will not meet with Begin until the Israeli becomes less "nervous." Begin's office is countering that no meetings were scheduled anyway.
Israeli officials were particularly irritated three weeks ago when Sadat's minister of state for foreign affairs, Butros Ghali, strongly criticized Israel's positions on Jerusalem and West Bank settlements. His comments followed longstanding Egyptian policy, they acknowledged, but nevertheless were considered out of place at a news conference marking the arrival of an Israeli delegation in Cairo to revive the autonomy negotiations.
Ghali often has been less willing to compromise than Sadat, insisting that bilateral relations be linked closely to autonomy progress. Until now, he had been overruled. But he has told recent visitors that Sadat now is more willing to demand Israeli concessions on autonomy in return for improved relations.
Indeed, Sadat's own language seems to have become less flexible. In a speech marking the July 23, 1952, Egyptian revolution against the monarchy, he insisted on "liquidation" of Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. His previous demands have centered on what he and President Carter believed was a promise from Begin to "freeze" settlement building during the negotiations.
Perhaps more important, Israeli sources say Sadat recently told Ben-Elissar for the first time that Egypt was seeking a "Palestinian state." This is anathema to the Begin government and a step beyond the usual private Egyptian position, which talks of self-determination for the Palestinian people.
Ben-Elissar himself has become a subject of contention. On a holiday in Israel this month, he complained on official Israeli television about what he called bad treatment from Egyptian authorities. The Egyptians resented it, and even some Israeli officials felt this was questionable diplomatic practice.
Anis Mansour, editor of October magazine and a Sadat Confidant often used to channel the president's views, quickly responded with an editorial accusing Ben-Elissar of seeking complications in Egyptian-Israeli relations to give Begin and himself campaign ammunition for the next Israeli elections. t
"The Israeli ambassador has instructions to create an urgent issue because the election campaign already has begun against the Labor Party and against America, Egypt, the Arab world and Europe," he said. "And he needs an issue because he himself is going to be a candidate in the next elections. The issue he needs leads him to put obstacles in the way of the already difficult [autonomy] negotiations."