Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachen Begin wound up a two-day summit meeting here today with an agreement to resume next month the long-stalled talks on Palestinian autonomy.
Despite the agreement, announced in a joint press conference at this ancient port city's Saffa Palace, there were no signs that any significant progress had been reached over the differing Egyptian and Israeli positions on the question of autonomy for the Israeli-occupied Arab territories in the West Bank and Gaza region.
There was also no mention of Israel's official declaration last year that all of Jerusalem -- including Arab East Jerusalem -- would be the permanent capital of Israel, the act that led Sadat to suspend Egyptian participation in the bilateral autonomny talks that were set up by the Camp David accords of 1978.
Both Sadat and Begin, however, officially dismissed their continuing differences and termed ther brief summit a success, ignoring the rather cool and formal atmosphere that prevailed.
Although Egypt had gone into the summit insisting that autonomy talks could not be resumed until U.S. policy on the issue became clear -- a development the Egyptians do not expect until after a series of meetings between President Reagan and several Middle East leaders in the fall -- Begin apparently got his way.
The talks are now scheduled to resume at the ministerial level Sept. 23-24, after Begin's own visit to Washington early next month. No sit for the meetings was announced.
For its part, Israel appeared to have gotten no new Egyptian commitments on the full normalization of relations between the two countries. Israeli officials have accused the Egyptians of delaying agreements on tourism, commerce and cultural exchanges.
Sadat and Begin said they discussed Israel's destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Tarmuz in June, and its bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization offices in the middle of a civilian residential area in Beirut, Lebanon, in July. Both, however, declined to comment on their talks over the delicate subject which has greatly embarrassed Sadat with his fellow Arabs.
Begin, in fact, refused to admit to the Beirut bombing."Israel never bombed Beirut, my friend," Begin told a questioner. "[As] you said rightly, [we bombed] the headquarters of the PLO, not Beirut."
Egypt and Israel have been locked in a disagreement over the exact definition of "autonomy" in the occupied territories. Egypt insists it should mean a form of self-rule for the Palestinian state, while Israeli interprets the autonomy as little more than some sort of "administrative" council for the Palestinians, with Israel maintaining control of the area's major governing institutions.
Israel has said repeatedly that it would not accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Begin's government has encouraged the settlement of some 100,000 Israelis in the area.
Sadat and Begin agreed that after an interim autonomy structure was established, Palestinians from the occupied territories would be invited to join discussions about permanent measures, as provided in the Camp David agreements.Begin, however, insisted once again that these Palestinians could not be members of the PLO. Sadat did not argue the point, repeating only that he considered the PLO "not the sole" representative of the Palestinians.
Sadat said he had told Begin that the cease-fire negotiated last month along Israel's northern border with Lebanon could provide a basis to "build" a larger peace in the Middle East. Sadat said that although there had been many points of difference between him and Begin on the question, he considered the accord a "major achievement."
Despite their differences, both Sadat and Begin did their best to picture the conference as a success. Sadat termed the summit "a good meeting" while Begin said his visit was "successful."
Sadat who repeatedly referred to the Israeli prime minister as "my fried," a term reciprocated by Begin, even went so far as to dismiss his withdrawl from the autonomy talks last summer as little more than a gesture that allowed him to await the result of the U.S. elections last fall and the Israeli elections in June, which resulted in Begin's reelection.