SAUDI ARABIA feels strongly about the Palestinian issue and finds sponsorship of it vital to its diplomacy in the Arab world -- no small need in view of the many dangers to Saudi Arabia arising from points outside Israel. So, true to form, King Fahd arrived in Washington hoping to draw President Reagan deeper into the Arab-Israeli question. For "moderate" Arabs, this means making an effort to deliver the Palestinians while calling upon the United States to deliver the Israelis. An evident part of the Saudi effort was the "framework for common action" that King Hussein of Jordan and Yasser Arafat, chairman of part of the PLO, produced word of while King Fahd was in Washington.
We say "word of" because the framework itself has been slow to be revealed. It is reputed to enable the PLO to join Jordan in an international peace conference, but it is not clear whether there is anything solid in it, or anything that could be made solid by further tending. "We're being optimistic about it," President Reagan said. But Jordan and the PLO have a long record of evading the straightforward commitment to recognize and negotiate with Israel, which is the only conceivable basis of Arab-Israeli peace.
Israel is of two minds -- represented by the Labor and Likud elements of its "national unity government" -- about negotiations. Labor favors a territorial compromise on the West Bank and would accept direct negotiations with Jordan and with Palestinians acknowledging Israel's right to exist. Likud, leaning to absorption of the West Bank, has an interest in avoiding negotiations and in backing away from United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for an exchange of territory for peace.
If the Jordanians and their friends are smart, they will play to Labor. They will get their act together while Labor's Shimon Peres is still prime minister. They will help Ronald Reagan revive his 1982 peace plan, which Mr. Peres favored when it was issued -- the then Begin government flatly turned it down. They will realize there is no profit in fuzzy "frameworks."
In the Arab world the belief lingers that only second-term American presidents are free enough of Jewish pressure to bear down on Israel. The second-term Eisenhower, who pried Israel out of Sinai, is their model. This belief misstates, seriously and offensively, the basis of Israel's American support. But if Arabs believe it, let them accept its implications and make a clear move now.
As for the Saudis, though they and the Americans have a history of disappointing each other on the Palestinian issue, the two share many other interests, and are working together to serve them.