One of Israel's prime objectives now that President Carter is on his way out of the White House is to ensure that its relations with Ronald Reagan will be as good or better than those with Mr. Carter.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin is in the United States on a private visit. Upon arrival Nov. 9 he said he would like to meet President-elect Reagan but did not expect to at this time.
Nevertheless, Mr. Begin's interest in getting together with the incoming US President as soon as possible to ensure a sound working relationship with him and with the new Republican administration is for obvious reasons. An early talk between the two men will be taken by some Israelis as a gauge of how Israel can expect Mr. Reagan to react to Israel's needs.
The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Efraim Evron, reportedly has been sent to Los Angeles to seek an appointment for Mr. Begin with Mr. Reagan, and the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, David Kimche, has been assigned to the US, where he is to supervise the establishment of hitherto nonexistent links between Israel and the President-elect's inner circle.
If Mr. Begin's scheduled visit with President Carter Nov. 13 is not followed by a rendezvous with Mr. Reagan before the Israeli leader winds up his US visit, this rightly or wrongly will be taken by some as a rebuff by the President-elect and as a political setback for the prime minister.
However, some opinionmakers here undoubtedly will ask whether it was politic or judicious to expect an incoming president to confer with a foreign statesman before officially entering the White House.
The prevailing Israeli reaction to the Reagan election has been enthusiastic here. The independent newpaper Haaretz welcomed the unequivocally pro-Israel statements made by Mr. Reagan during the closing stages of his campaign and the concomitant repudiation of the Palestine Liberation Organization as a "terrorist band." These sentiments wax much more sanguine in the right wing of Israel's political community and more reserved in the left.
Meanwhile, a number of problems confront Israel and the US at present.Directly, there are the stalled Palestinian autonomy talks. Less directly but also of concern is Israel's controversial step of establishing two more new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and parliamentary moves toward annexing the occupied Golan Heights.
A consensus exists that little if any progress can be expected in the three-sided negotiations with Egypt and the US on Palestinian autonomy until after the inauguration and the subsequent redefinition of American foreign policy objectives and procedures.
This attitude has turned the latest series of proposals brought by the deputy head of the US autonomy team, Ambassador James Leonard, into an academic exercise. Considerably more interest surrounds whether Ambassador Sol Linowitz will continue as chief autonomy negotiator and who might replace him.
It also is assumed that the projected summit conference between President Carter, President Sadat of Egypt, and Prime Minister Begin, at which outstanding disagreements on the terms for a Palestinian self-governing authority in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were to have been reevaluated, no longer is feasible. By the same token, the President-elect is not expected to be ready for this kind of discussion until late this winter or early next spring.
Indeed, the passage of time without meaningful progress toward solution of the Palestinian autonomy scheme can be dangerous, given the inherent turbulence of events in the Middle East. Under such circumstances, the only assurance that the new Israeli-Egyptian relationship will not deteriorate will lie in the oft-heard pledge by Messrs. Sadat and Begin: "No more war, no more bloodshed."
The recent visit to Egypt by Israel's affable President Yitzhak Navon, in which an impressive command of Arabic oratory and Middle Eastern finesse was displayed, also may contribute to preservation of the status quo.
But the inherent capacity for disagreement and disenchantment between Egypt and Israel will persist, as was indicated by the sharp refusal of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Butrus Ghali to go ahead with a trip to this city because of the Knesset's recent law including Jerusalem's former Jordanian sector within Israels' "eternal capital."
Nor has the Egyptian government been encouraged by word that two more Jewish settlements have been established in the West Bank. Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali reacted bitterly that this is detrimental to the fulfillment of the Camp David accords reached with President Carter.
And there is the tendency in Egypt to identify with the plight of Muhammad Milhem and Fahd Kawasmeh, mayors of the West Bank municipalities of Halhul and Hebron, respectively, whose appeal against summary expulsion to Lebanon is being heard by the Israeli Supreme Court.
These considerations are further complicated by concern over a Knesset bill that would formally annex the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau taken by Israel from Syria 13 years ago in the six-day war of 1967. It is not that Cairo is shedding crocodile tears for Damascus, but that President Sadat's government cannot retain the vestiges of its self-respect as the would-be leader of the Arab world's moderate states if it resigns itself to unilateral Israeli annexation of Arab territory.
Passage of the Golan Heights bill would not only embarrass Mr. Sadat but also undercut his status in Arab minds as a seemingly indifferent friend of Israel.
Regardless of the long-range implications of these problems, though, Israeli eyes remain focussed on the American political scene.