If there is method in Prime Minister Menachem Begin's increasingly hard-line political maneuvering, it appears to relate to election considerations both here and in the United States.
In recent weeks the wily Israeli leader has taken a whole series of actions that seem calculated to capitalize on the current state of domestic and world affairs -- besides fitting in with his own Zionist-revisionist leanings:
* He has insisted on moving his office to this city's pre-1967 Jordanian sector (unilaterally annexed by Israel in the "six- day war").
* He has held to his own somewhat narrow definition of Palestinian autonomy, despite American and Egyptian efforts to broaden it.
* He has refused to call a moratorium on Jewish settlement projects in the occupied West Bank ang Gaza STip.
* He has resorted to unsubtle sarcasm in rejecting Egyptian President Sadat's suggestion that Islamic flags be allowed to fly atop Jerusalem's Moslem holy places. Before leaving Hadassah Hospital here for two more weeks of convalescence from a heart attack, he declared that the flags of 21 Arab states could be raised in Jerusalem if their respective govenments recognize the city in toto as Israel's "eternal capital" and open embassies in its midst -- a spectacularly unlikely occurrence.
* Shortly before his latest round of health troubles he advocated the ouster from local universities of Israeli Arab students who sympathize with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Then, in his absence, the Cabinet voted to ask the Knesset (parliament) for legislation under which public identification with "terrorist organizations" would be punishable by up to three years in prison and $5,000 fines. Mr. Begin told a press conference that this move, too, had his unqualified support.
It could be that Mr. Begin thinks this is the time to stonewall -- lest US Republican and Democratic party platformmakers misinterpret any Israeli "flexibility" as a signal to veer toward Arab Mideast positions.
This theory would conform to the Israeli notion that presidential election campaigns and conventions are prime opportunities to get American partisan thinking back on the track favored here.
Some support for this view may be found in the recent visit here of independent aspirant John B. Anderson (R.,Ill.). His remarks during his four-day swing through Israel repeatedly implied that Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza not only should stay put, but also that their inherent "rights" should be given much the same international recognition as those of the Palestinian Arabs.
Mr. Begin, the theory goes, might well be gambling with the sensitive Jerusalem issue now -- instead of later in the negotiating process -- so as to elicit satisfactory planks on the city's status from the GOP and the Democrats.
Such behavior also suggests that the prime minister is out to steal the thunder from Israel's ultranationalists, headed by Knesset Deputy Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir, who defected from his Likud Party. With the scent of an Israeli election already in the air, Mr. Begin's mind would naturally give priority to vote getting.
He also may be trying to push the opposition Labor Party into appearing increasingly dovish while he himself recoups his strength to reemerge in two weeks' time with the reins of government once again firmly in his grip -- and the Carter admin istration forced to lower its negotiating profile at least until November.