Both the Egyptian and Israel governmments are trying to get an inside track with President-elect Ronald Reagan by the time he formally assumes office next month. Both have their eyes, too, on the incoming 97th Congress, which will have a more Republican complexion than its predecessor.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin know that Mr. Reagan and the new Congress -- particularly Mr. Reagan -- will have key roles in deciding what happens next in the still unfinished business of implementing fully the Camp David accords. Beyond that, there is the whole question of an overall Middle East peace settlement between Arabs and Israelis.
Consequently, and regardless of their personl feelings prior to the United States election, both Mr. Sadat and Mr. Begin want to establish their credentials separately with the President-elect and to ensure that he enter office favorably disposed to them. For each, the unspoken desire is that Mr. Reagan be more favorably disposed toward him than the other.
Hence the Israeli government's moves to soft-pedal the irritation initially voiced in some Israeli and pro-Israeli quarters when Mr. Begin, visiting the US shortly after the US election, failed to get an appointment with Mr. Reagan. This irritation was out- wardly and officially contained, even when West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, visiting the US shortly after Mr. Begin, did meet with Mr. Reagan.
Hence, on the Egyptian side, official dismay at reports in the US press suggesting that President Sadat and his deputy, Vice- President Hosni Mubarak, either have misgivings about President-elect Reagan's likely Middle East policies or have been rebuffed in efforts to establish satisfactory contacts with the Reagan foreign policy transition team.
So sensitive are Egyptians about this, that these US press reports are feeding the suspicion -- never far from the surface in Cairo -- that an alleged pro-Israeli bias in the US media is reasserting itself to the intended detriment of Egypt.
Egyptian officials insist they are satisfied with contacts made with the Reagan transition team and with the outcome of Vice-President Mubarak's Washington visit. They point to the announcement, authorized by Mr. Reagan at the end of Mr. Mubarak's visit, committing the incoming president to continuing the Camp David process. Simultaneously, Mr. Reagan let it be known he would agree to changes in that process only with the consent of the Egyptian and Israeli governments.
In recent months, talks under the Camp David formula have been centered -- some might say stalled -- on the frustrating search for agreement on how to give the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip a five-year period of autonomy (As Camp David provides) before any long- term decision on their future.
Prior to Mr. Mubarak's visit to Washington, there were reports that some in the Reagan team held the view that the way to break the near-deadlock was to bring King Husseing of Jordan into the negotiations, in which the present participants are Egypt, Israel, and the US. Parallel with these reports were: first, the Israeli opposition Labor Party's apparent preference for the "Jordanian option" as the route to a west Bank settlement; and second, indications that King Hussein was aiming for his own inside track with President-elect Reagan. Consequently the latter's public commitment to Camp David (on Which President Sadat is risking all) pleases the Egyptians.
Yet both Egyptians and Israelis still need to tread carefully in developing their relations with the incoming president and Congress. Mr. Sadat had a particularly easy relationship with the defeated President Carter and was thought to be hoping for the latter's re-election. The Egyptian President managed the transfer from the Nixon-Ford era to the Carter presidency with skill , and presumably is aiming at the same with the transition from Carter to Reagan.
Mr. Reagan seemed more outspokenly pro-Israeli than Mr. Carter during the recent election campaign. But the Jerusalem Post's Washington correspondent has repeatedly warned the paper's readers that election rhetoric and eventual performance do not always coincide. The same correspondent has written recently of "a battle of sorts" among Mr. Reagan's Jewish supporters about "the proper method for maintaining liaison between the White House and the Jewish community."
Another problem for Israelis is that the losers in US November elections were Democratic senators with longstanding reputations as influential champions of the Israeli cause on Capitol Hill in Washington.