The word from the White House these days is that the President has ''had it'' with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Mr. Reagan, despite public utterances that would indicate otherwise, has apparently lost patience with Mr. Begin. The Israeli leader's persistence in pushing settlement of the West Bank and his slowness in getting Israeli troops out of Lebanon have made it virtually impossible for the Reagan Mideast peace initiative to get anywhere.
In private discussions Reagan is said to be ''talking tough'' to Begin - letting his frustrations and even anger show through. From those around the President come expressions of displeasure with Begin.
Former Democratic national chairman Robert Strauss, who has had quite a bit of experience in dealing with Begin, is understanding of the President's problems.
''I disapprove of a great many things he (Begin) is doing right now,'' Mr. Strauss told reporters the other morning. But Strauss, himself a special envoy to the Mideast during the Carter administration, says that ''talking tough'' to Begin is not the answer.
He says there's a better way of dealing with the Israeli prime minister. He calls it ''jawboning,'' using the phrase that is often applied to an administration's efforts to talk persuasively to groups or individuals - more common of late in the labor-management field.
''I think there is a difference between being tough and being firm,'' Strauss says. ''You can jawbone this thing very effectively. And you can outline scenarios both positive and negative without privately or publicly threatening - and do it in a way that could persuade Begin.''
''I think what has happened to President Reagan is an under-standable thing, '' Strauss says. ''He has moved from warmth and affection to considerable dislike for Begin.
''The same thing was true of Jimmy Carter. Both of these presidents lost a certain personal . . . affinity they had with Begin. He's a man who can cause that. And I'm not blaming either of them. But I think it's a mistake (to dislike Begin to the pointwhere the relationship between the nations suffers). It's a luxury they can't afford.''
''I like Begin. He likes me,'' Strauss adds, ''although I disapprove of a great many things he is doing right now. . . .''
''Jawboning has always been a tool of international diplomacy that is open to any president. But I think it is up to the President, himself, to do this jawboning,'' Strauss says.
When asked if the United States should threaten Begin with an aid cutoff or use a moderate approach, Strauss says:
''I think the heavy-handed approach with Israeli leadership continues to strengthen the hands of the leaders there. Again, I disagree with a great many things the Begin government has done. . . . But you have to separate Begin from Israel. And when this administration deals with Begin and is heavy-handed, it does work in a negative way.''
On other subjects, Strauss had this to say:
What are your views on US relations with the Soviets?
What I would not be surprised to see would be for this administration to enter into some sort of arms-control agreement. It seems to me that George Bush is setting the stage for a compromise and a shifting position by the administration - by the President. I think you will begin to see that shift by early March.
Can a Democrat beat President Reagan in '84?
The simple truth of the matter is if you nominate the right kind of candidate , and you have an administration performing like this one is, there is no reason in the world why the Democrats can't elect a president.
You all remember . . . when the public began to feel that Jimmy Carter wasn't strong enough. . . . No matter what we did during that campaign, we couldn't get rid of (that feeling).
If Ronald Reagan goes another six months and the feeling continues to grow that he really doesn't know enough to be President - that he's just not up to it - then no matter how comfortable people feel with him personally, no matter how much they like him, all the birthday cakes he has on TV won't do him any good. Ronald Reagan could easily be elected under one set of circumstances and easily defeated on another.
What kind of Democrat should the party run in 1984?
We can't make it unless the candidate is able to reach out. So we need a candidate who runs pretty close to what I call the middle - if we are to have our strongest candidate.
But to defeat Mr. Reagan, won't there have to be a clear-cut Democratic alternative?
You are never going to have a single, clear-cut Democratic alternative when you have 7 to 10 people seeking the presidency. . . . And you shouldn't.
Until we leave the convention in 1984 there will be many alternatives.