MADRID, Spain -- Arab and Israeli representatives headed home yesterday from the rocky start of peace talks whose continuation is heavily dependent on new diplomatic efforts by the United States.
Twenty-four hours after the first face-to-face meetings between Israelis and three Arab delegations, most of the parties were leaving Madrid without trying to hold a second round of talks and with no date or site agreed to for the second round.
But there was more progress at the first sessions than in the previous four decades. It was the first time some of the parties had been together in the same room and the first time they had acknowledged each other as equals.
The atmosphere was best in the session that brought Israelis together with a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation. Both sides described the meeting as "businesslike" and, in a businesslike way, said they would work on planning further meetings.
Self-government for Palestinians is to be discussed at those future sessions, on terms the Palestinians accept now but rejected in 1979, when they were first offered in the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
As part of the 1979 agreement, Israel pledged to offer autonomy to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in two stages: negotiations to define self-government followed by negotiations involving Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians on the permanent status of the Israeli-occupied territories.
"It wasn't the right time before," Albert Aghazarian, a spokesman for the Palestinian delegation, said of the change of heart. "Now it is. Conditions change."
Less promising was the encounter between Israel and Syria. In separate accounts of their meeting, Israelis and Syrians agreed only that they disagreed on almost everything, including what to talk about. They met for about five hours, from late Sunday night until early yesterday.
The Israelis said the Syrians wanted to focus exclusively on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which outline a land-for-peace formula. "It was like six-digit music," said Yossi Olmert, a member of the Israeli team. "They kept repeating '242, 338.' "
The Syrians were unhappy that the Israeli delegation talked about everything except the occupied territories, which the Arabs say Israel must relinquish if there is to be a formal peace. Syria is demanding the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967, as a first step in negotiations.
"The Israeli delegation rejected all the necessary requirements to establish peace in the region," said Farouk al-Sharaa, Syria's foreign minister. "They talked about everything except the land Israel has occupied."
But the public unhappiness does not mean the meeting was a failure. In fact, it apparently worked much as Secretary of State James A. Baker III had planned, and both sides emerged pledging to hold more talks.
Once at the negotiating table, they stayed there because their fear of offending Mr. Baker and the United States -- and of being held responsible for the talks' failure -- outweighed any inclination to bring the talks to an abrupt end.
Mr. al-Sharaa, for example, harshly criticized Israel at a news conference yesterday, calling the first session "a waste of time," but he also said Syria would welcome reconvening the talks as soon as possible.
All parties say that without pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union, the co-sponsors of the negotiations, there is no obvious way to reconcile Israel's demand that future talks be held in the Middle East with the Arabs' unified position that the talks must be held elsewhere.
Israeli and Arab delegates say Washington and Williamsburg, Va., are the sites most often mentioned as possible compromises. Mr. Baker has said the United States and Soviet Union have made no formal proposal.
Arab delegations are insisting that all talks be held at the same time in the same city, in part to ensure that no Arab party signs an agreement with Israel unless the other Arab parties are satisfied.
Syria is both the most uncompromising of the Arab parties and the one most determined to enforce discipline, but its actions have alarmed other delegations.
"I think the Syrians enjoy being bullies," an Arab delegate said. "They want to live up to their reputation as being tough. From a public relations point of view, there was a problem with them."