President Anwar Sadat, by calling for a postponement in the next round of Palestinian autonomy talks, has temporarily found a way out of what had been an embarrassing, no-win situation.
The Egyptian leader has adroitly plopped the ball back into Israeli Prime Minister menachem Begin's court, and the burden now is on his government to determine when and if the negotiations resume.
In response to the vote last week by the Israeli (parliament) declaring a united jerusalem to be the eternal capital of Israel, Egypt has called off the next round of autonomy talks that had been scheduled for Aug. 4 in Alexandria, Egypt.
Publicly and privately, Egyptian officials have ruled out the possibility of a permanent rupture in the 14-month-old dialogue with Israel and the United States that is aimed at establishing self-rule for the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.
What they are seeking now is a delay until they receive a response from israel to a written message delivered Aug. 3 to the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.
Even though the pause may not be permanent, it nevertheless may be lenghty. Reports Sunday in Egypt's government-owned newspapers suggeste that Mr. Sadat told the Israelis the talks cannot resume until Israel agrees to negotiate all outstanding issues, including the status of the Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem.
The Egyptians contend the Arab sector must be recognizes as part and parcel of the West Bank and that its Palestinian residents are eligible to enjoy the fruits of autonomy along with those living in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to the influential Cairo daily, Al Ahram, President Sadat characterized the negotiations as being "meaningless" in light of the Knesset vote, which, he is said to have told Mr. Begin, imposes a "fait accompli" on the peace process.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sadat, knowing that world opinion is overwhelmingly on his side, has for the time being shifted the responsibility for the future of the negotiations to the Israelis. It was regarded as a shrewd move.
In the Egyptian view, the Knesset vote, and Mr. Begin's determination to move his office to east Jerusalem, has consciously mocked the effusive and celebrated friendship Mr. Sadat once felt for the Israelis in the first place
Yet, in his response, President Sadat was hampered by the knowledged that scuttling the talks completely would give Israel a free hand in extending its hold ovet the Palestinians. Officials here have long acknowledged that the negotiating forum set up in the Camp David agreement is the only setting in which effective pressure can be brought to bear on Israel.
Undet ordinary circumstances, Egypt could have broken its newly established diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. But that, of course, is not a feasible option for Egypt as long as the Israeli Army still occupies one-third of the formerly Egyptian Sinai peninsula.
Further restricting Mr. Sadat's reaction, and adding to his personal anxieties about the future of the peace process, has been the precarious electoral position of his friend, President Carter, Currently engulfed in "billygate." President Sadat is said to be banking heavily on Mr. Carter's re-election.
A volatile, hard-hitting Egyptian reaction to the Knesset vote could easily provide Mr. Carter's challengers with an opportunity to disparage his only foreign policy accomplishment.
Mr. Sadat, therefore, is expected to tame his tongue while waiting for the Israelis to react, trying to hold off on any provocative course of action until, he hopes, President Carter is safely assured another four years in the White House.