Egypt-Israel talks back on track -- but details unclear

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The Israeli-Egyptian talks on Palestine "autonomy" have been put back on track by President Carter's Mideast envoy Sol Linowitz. That much is clear following Mr. Linowitz's visits, first here with Prime Minister Menchem Begin, and then in Alexandria with Egyptian President Sadat.

President Carter confirmed in Washington Sept. 3 that the Camp David-originated talks on Palestinian home-rule in the West Bank and Gaza probably would resume shortly, to be followed by another three-way summit later this year. The same message was also telephoned personally to Mr. Begin by Ambassador Linowitz from Egypt.

All this is seen here as something of a diplomatic breakthrough -- as well as perhaps a useful boost to Mr. Carter's campaign for reelection, breathing as it does at least temporary new life into the faltering Camp David process. It is also seen as a triumph of reason over rhetoric and political stagnation.

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The exact terms of the behind-the-scenes agreement worked out by Mr. Linowitz still are not clear. Nor is the timetable for resumption of discussions.Nor was it immediately clear just how renewal of the autonomy talks related to the convening of the additional summit conference originally proposed by Mr. Sadat. Mr. Begin previously had insisted that such a summit could only be held after the US presidential election.

But Mr. Linowitz evidently succeeded in convincing both sides that recent statements and actions which had paralyzed the negotiating process could be put aside.

For instance, the new Israeli law making Jerusalem the nation's eternal capital apparently does not take the city's status off the bargaining table; Israeli legislation is not binding on Egypt or the United States. And the process of establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank has been curtailed by a formal announcement here Sept. 1 that the last four settlements had been authorized and that no more are to follow for the duration of the Begin government's current term which ends next year.

There also is speculation that Israeli may release an unspecified number of Palestinian Arabs from local prisons where they have been held for various security offenses. If this materializes, it would be an Israeli gesture to Mr. Sadat.

Some domestic analysts believe resumption of the autonomy talks would be as useful to Mr. Begin from an electoral standpoint as they would for Mr. Carter. Mr. Begin, who will have to go to the voters before the end of November 1981, could benefit from the renewed aura of a peacemaker.

As one Israeli man in the street put it: "Maybe we'll get a little 'nahes' [ pleasure] from him yet." another comment, made before the status of the autonomy talks was clarified, noted that "Begin will lose votes if the stalemate persists."

Ultimately, however, an autonomy scheme based on compromise between Egypt, Israel, and the US would have to be proposed to the Palestinians themselves. At present, the chances of the Palestinians accepting whatever the current negotiators can work out seem nil.

The PAlestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has rejected the home rule idea out of hand and even unaffiliated Palestinians, who are relatively few, have also rejected it. Even if a non-PLO delegation were to be willing to consider autonomy, it would probably demand additional concessions which Israel in turn would undoubtedly be unable to grant.

Thus, a peaceful settlement is still a long way off, but at least one of the few avenues of discussion has been opened up again.

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