President Anwar Sadat of Egypt ordered a delay in the next scheduled round of Palestinian autonomy talks today because of concern over the Israeli parliament's controversial vote making all Jerusalem the permanent Israeli capitol.
Sadat's order, announced by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, is in principle designed to give Israel and the United States time to reply to a message from Sadat to Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel defining Egypt's reaction to the new "fundamental law" on Jerualem, Foreign Ministry officials explained.
But it also reflects the president's anger over Wednesday's vote. The law, supported by Begin and his party, declared that the entire city of Jerusalem, including the Arab eastern sector conquered from Jordan in 1967, is the "eternal" capitol of Israel. This is direct contradiction with U.S. and Egyptian policies, which hold that Jerusalem's final status should be the result of negotiations in the Palestinian automomy talks set up in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Sadat's message, the contents of which were not revealed, is to be relayed to Begin's government Sunday by Egyptian Ambassador Saad Murtada in Tel Aviv. The United States will receive a copy and is expected to participate in the reply that will determine whether Egypt is prepared to continue the autonomy talks, the officials said.
An Israeli negotiating team had been scheduled to arrive in the Mediterranean resort of Alexandria Sunday for a first round of autonomy meetings. These preliminary talks were to lead Tuesday into the first full autonomy negotiating session since Sadat suspended the talks in May, when the Jerusalem bill was first introduced into the Israeli Knesset, or parliament.
The Foreign Ministry officials made it clear that Sadat's order today was not a new suspension. Rather, they said, it delayed the arrival of Israeli officials to Alexandria and left the way open for a decision later on whether to tell them to stay away altogether.
Sadat agreed last month to resume the talks after a meeting in Washington with Ali, Israeli Interior Minister Yosef Burg and the chief U.S. Middle East negotiator, Sol Linowitz. The Egyptian minister of state for foreign affairs, Butros Ghali, said later that Sadat had agreed, on the basis of U.S. assurances, that the Jerusalem bill did not have the support of Begin's government, and Egyptian officials expressed hope that it would be allowed to die in committee at the end of the Knesset session.
Faced with the Knesset vote, however, Sadat now is forced to decide whether to call off the talks again. Some reports last night said he already had decided to restart the talks. Ali and other Foreign Ministry officials, however, said today that Sadat's decision whether to proceed depends on the responses he gets from the United States and Begin.
The comments suggested that the Egyptian president has laid down some new conditions for keeping the talks going and that has postponement order was intended as a warning gesture of what could happen if the responses are unsatisfactory.
Ali, who conferred at the Foreign Minister today with U.S. Ambassador Alfred Atherton, said he was assured that the United States supports Egypt's stand against the Knesset vote. U.S. policy since 1967 has considered that Jerusalem's fate must be negotiated, and Washington objected particularly to last week's vote because of the difficulties it creates for the already stagnant autonomy talks.
Even with this U.S. position, however, Egyptian diplomats were unsure whether Israel could make the kind of assurances that would allow Sadat to go ahead with the talks in Alexandria without losing face and bargaining leverage.
"People around here are getting more and more fed up with the Israelis," said one ranking Foreign Ministry official.
His comment reflected a general souring in Egyptian-Israeli relations because of the Jerusalem bill and Begin's apparent resolve to move his offices into the Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem captured and annexed in 1967. It is against this background, officials said, that sentiments are growing in the Egptian government, including the presidency, that the time has come for a stiff stand by Egypt.
At the same time, they added, Sadat is reluctant to call off the talks for fear they could not be revived and out of concern for President Carter's reelection campaign. As Egyptians see it, the Camp David accords are one of Carter's few success stories, and a new suspension of the autonomy talks could tarnish even that.
Egyptians make no secret of their desire to see Carter reelected. Despite widespread disappointment in his willingness to pressure Israel for concessions, most Egyptian officials believe Carter would be a better president from Egypt's point of view than Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.
This is so, a Foreign Ministry official explained, because Carter could be expected to be stronger against Israel once he is relieved of the need for electoral support from U.S. Jews. If Reagan were elected, he said, Egypt could expect a long delay while he studies Middle East files and determines his own policies.
In this light, the official added, the main concern of the Egyptian government from Sadat down through the Foreign Ministry is to keep the Camp David framework intact through the U.S. elections, in hopes that afterward, a strengthened Carter administration can produce some progress in the stalemated talks.
"Even if nothing is going through the channel now, it is important to keep the channel open so that when things are ready, it will still work," he said. "But no one expects anything for the next six months."