The Reagan administration continued to react with great caution yesterday to the violence on the occupied West Bank, calling for restraint on all sides but steering clear of publicly assessing blame or discussing the potentially serious effects on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"We deplore the loss of life over there, and we are hopeful that all parties will show restraint," White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said in a brief answer to reporters' questions.
At the State Department, spokesman Dean Fischer restated the U.S. call for restraint for the third consecutive day. "We especially regret that the violence is continuing and has brought the tragedy of death of more families," he said.
The eruption of violence, in the view of some officials, is the result of a campaign by Israel, starting months ago, to tighten its control over Palestinians on the West Bank and substitute local authorities friendly to Israel for elected mayors friendly to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"Most of the action in the area right now is in reaction to what the Israelis are doing," one official said.
U.S. spokesmen have been skittish about taking any public position because of the unusually tense political atmosphere and extreme touchiness in Israel, due in part to the scheduled return of the remaining part of the Sinai to Egypt under a U.S.-sponsored peace treaty a month from today.
The main line of official thinking here is to do and say as little as possible about the West Bank or any other issue that would bring a reaction in Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, a more explicit and extensive reaction to West Bank violence is likely to be forced on the United States by the U.N. Security Council debate on the issue, which was requested by Arab nations and began yesterday.
Despite the emerging possibility that Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government might resign or fall due to opposition to the Sinai return in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, the prevailing view among U.S. specialists is that, as of today, Begin remains in a very strong position.
New Israeli elections, in this view, probably would strengthen Begin rather than harm him, an assessment believed shared by Begin's main political opponents at home.
Officials said there is little doubt that the intensified conflict has further complicated the difficult problem of reaching an interim settlement on the West Bank through automomy negotiations generated by the Camp David accords.
The United States, in order to aid the autonomy discussions, has invited Egyptian and Israeli negotiators to hold their next working-level meeting here. This would skirt an impasse between Israel, which is insisting that Jerusalem be the site, and Egypt, which is resisting because of renewed refusal to recognize that disputed city as the Israeli capital.
A further U.S. push for a breakthrough at higher levels in the stalled autonomy talks is likely after the scheduled return of the Sinai April 25. But officials familiar with the planning denied a report that this would be the last push for autonomy before discarding the concept, or that a trip to the area by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is under consideration.