The Israeli Cabinet's surprise go-ahead for a Jewish presence in the heart of the Arab West Bank town of Hebron has further complicated United States efforts to speed a Palestinian autonomy agreement.
A divided Cabinet endorsed establishment of a Jewish religious school and a nature center in Hebron, one of the largest Arab towns on the West Bank.
The move came, moreover, just as American negotiator Saul Linowitz arrived here for talks.
Israeli radio reports said Prime minister Menachem Begin, himself, had pushed for the March 23 Cabinet decision -- dashing speculation by the Israeli media he would delay any such move in order to avoid fresh friction with the Carter administration.
Diplomats saw the Cabinet announcement as a clear message both to the US and Egypt that Israel would not be pushed into hasty agreement on West Bank autonomy just ot meet a May 26 "target date" set by all sides.
Egypt's President Anwar Sadat, in a letter to Mr. Begin, had reaffirmed his contention that May 26 was not merely a target, but an effective deadline for negotiations still snagged on major issues.
Mr. Linowitz, on arrival in Israel, was careful not to side with Mr. Sadat. But he made no secret of Washington's feeling that everything must be done to unclog the talks -- a process President Carter hopes to facilitate in separate April meetings with the Israeli and Egyptian leaders.
Although the decision was announced almost matter-of-factly, its political implications were lost on no one. Opposition politicians protested -- some suggesting that, given known US and Egyptian rejection of such action, Mr. Begin had served only to ensure added trouble in the autonomy talks.
Whether the decision actually would be implemented remained unclear.
Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, a relative "dove," opposed both the tenor and timing of the move. He invoked a coalition rule, barring implementation until Mr. Begin received parliamentary approval, something analysts here said might be far from automatic.