WHAT IS notable about the latest round of Middle East peace feelers -- they are nowhere near being peace talks -- is their lack of drama, their procedural quality, the sense they convey that, privately at least, the parties understand quite well the difficult things they are asking each other to do. This is an encouraging development in an area too often given to impulses and dramatic departures and to alternating excesses of illusion and despair.
True, among the Arabs, there is a certain amount of now-or-never talk, some of it reflecting real impatience and some of it obviously designed to break down the Reagan administration's hesitation to get involved prematurely. At the same time, among the "moderate" Arabs who have been trooping to Washington, there is a measure of modesty too. They know that their tender of good faith, the veiled peace commitment that the PLO's Yasser Arafat made a month ago with Jordan's King Hussein, does not meet the American requirement for a direct PLO acknowledgment of Israel; President Reagan made that much clear Thursday night. They seem prepared, though they are not enthusiastic about it, to work a while longer to find the formula that will put American diplomacy to work on their side as well as on the Israeli side.
The moderates have not dropped the familiar and fundamental demand that the United States "deliver" Israel to a settlement. They have an eye on the Israeli political scene, however, and what they see -- in the Labor government now in power -- is the faint but real prospect of a partner for the Palestinian entity they might yet manage to deliver themselves. The gap is still very great: The PLO is a weak and fragmented organization whose very attempt to make itself presentable to the Israelis could be fatal to it. The current Israeli government wants the tactical benefits of being considered reasonable but is not at all eager to bring on the national convulsion it would have to undergo in order to fit itself out to deal with Palestinians -- particularly when so far there are no Palestinians to deal with.
The way things are at the moment, the Jordanians may try to dig out some Palestinians who are respectable and representative but not easily identifiable as figures of the PLO. But it takes mirrors to find such people. It would be far better if the PLO prepared itself to accept Israel out in the open. The PLO's argument that its recognition of Israel is its ultimate card, one not to be played until the last hand, was discredited long ago. The Palestinians have got to make their move. It would be extremely difficult, but it alone promises them results. It alone promises a serious American helping hand.