Prime Minister Menachem Begin has been given leeway to consider a US-Egyptian proposal for a marathon round of negotiations in Washington on Palestinian autonomy by his coalition Cabinet.
But the Israeli leader, who was scheduled to fly to the US Monday, was aware of the prevailing lack of enthusiasm for the idea among his Likud and National Religious Party ministers.
A consensus seems to exist in government circles that Washington would be less desirable venue for these discussions than sites in Egypt and Israel, and that the pressure inherent in nonstop bargaining might be more than the Israeli side could be tolerate.
If that is the case, Mr. Begin will be constrained to seek another way of bypassing the May 26 target date for an agreement on Palestinian home rule as set forth, according to Egyptian and some American interpretations, in the peace treaty with Egypt.
(A letter appended to the compact, addressed to Mr. Carter and signed by President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, contains the May 26 date.)
Mr. Begin will be setting forth for the US with the current phase of the Middle East crisis on a slow burn.
He still has an undisclosed number of troops manning improvised lookout posts in southern Lebanon, despite the withdrawal of the initial force that crossed the border last week in the wake of a raid on kibbutz Misgavam by the Arab Liberation Front (ALF).
The maximum estimate of the Israeli incursion's strength, made by UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesmen was 400. But Israeli military quarters here neither confirmed this figure nor offered any of its own.
The perimeter along which the remaining troops are deployed coincides with that normally patrolled by Lebanese Christian militiamen commanded by maverick Lebanese Maj. Saad Haddad.
At first there was a dispute over an alleged Israeli presence in Qanun village, UN peace-keeping spokesmen contending that this was within their units' domain. But Major Haddad promptly asserted that Qanun rightfully should be under his control.
Since then, fierce fighting has erupted between Major Haddad's troops, armed by Israel, and the Irish contingent of UNIFIL with casualties on both sides. Israeli officers reportedly acted as mediators in this weekend incident.
Israel's purpose in deploying troops inside Lebanon was to establish a virtual quarantined area against future terrorist missions such as that of the ALF in which the kibbutz secretary, a soldier, and two-year old boy, were killed.
Mr. Begin could have given the green light for a far more powerful response to the Misgavam raid, but his impending trip to Washington and a desire to keep the atmosphere free of tension that is the inevitable result of violence evidently stayed his hand.