Sixteen new settlements are in the planning stage for the occupied West Bank of the Jordan, which Israel's new government calls "liberated" territory.

Government officials are seeking to play down reports of the plans for the new settlements, at least until after Prime Minister Menachem Begin meets with President Carter later this month in Washington.

It is known, however, that the planners would like to start 11 new settlements this year. Five others, whole new cities, are protected for construction over the next four years.

In addition, two groups reportedly have made long-range plans calling for more than 100 other settlements on the West Bank, taken from Jordan in the 1967 war.

The United States opposes Israeli settlements on occupied Arab land as a potential bar to a peace settlement. With the Arab and Israeli positions on the issue now hardened into diametrically opposed views, the West Bank poses a potential deadlock for any Geneva peace talks.

The Arab governments say "not one inch of former Arab land should remain in Israeli hands. The new Begin government says it will negotiate the West Bank, but says it will not withdraw from it.

Thus both sides are approaching Geneva rhetorically locked into their positions, but with a significant difference: The Arabs are outside the territories looking in, and the Israelis are inside building settlements.

There are now 36 Israeli settlements either built or under construction on the West Bank, a butterfly - shaped chunk of land between the Jordan River and Israel's 1948 border. Most residents of the West Bank are Palestinian Arabs.

In the planning stage are:

Four projects approved by the government settlement committee, one of them a regional shopping and services center to serve adjacent settlements. They are in lightly populated Jordan Valley areas.

Seven new settlements planned by the Gush Emunim (Faith Bloc) orthodox religious group in built-up areas of the West Bank, many adjacent to major cities.

Five new Jewish towns with a potential total population of 150,000 planned by Begin's Likud Party to be built over a four-year period. Several would be deep in the West Bank.

The government-approved projects are part of a defensive line of settlements planned to protect Israel from attack or infiltration from Jordan. Israel also has placed settlements in other occupied territories - the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai desert - where they lie athwart potential invasion routes.

The Gush Emunim and Likud projects, however, are planned for areas where it is clear that defense is not an issue. They are to claim the territory for Eretz Israel - the "Land of Israel" - which Begin has said includes the West Bank areas of Samaria and Judea, parts of the Israel of biblical times.

Gush Emunim started a settlement at Kaddum without permission. It was there that Begin, in his first post-election speech, proclaimed the West Bank a part of Israel. He urged more Jewish settlements in formerly Arab held lands.

Begin has not commented on the Likud plan nor on the Gush Emunim projects. The government settlements committee has not considered either plan officially. There were indications that the plans are being pigeonholed pending the Washington trip.

A Gush Emunim official said in a talk at a military settlement this week that the orthodox group had submitted a program to establish 60 new settlements on government land in the West Bank. Another official said Begin had promised in a meeting with Gush Emunim representatives that he would give their plans the green light after his return from Washington.

"That is a report by one person," said spokesman for Begin, "but the prime minister has made no comment on the matter."

An Israeli newspaper reported that Begin stopped commenting on the West Bank after learning that the White House had informed Israel's ambassador to Washington that Carter would like to talk to Begin about the settlements in Judea and Samaria.

It has reported that the Israeli Cabinet decided not to discuss the new settlements until after Begin's return from Washington.

Gush Emunim sees the Likud victory in the May 17 elections as an end to the days when it had to start settlements without legal permission.

"It's what we always wanted," said a Gush Emunim spokesman, "to be able to start government supported settlements."

"This is our opportunity," Gush Emunim leader Hanan Porat said after the election. "The mission of Gush Emunim now is to grab and settle. In the next six months we must set up 20 new settlements in Judea and Samaria."

Gush Emunim says it expects to have no difficulties finding families to settle in the new projects. There are 300 families on the waiting list, an official said. The new settlements each will have about 35 families, averaging about five persons per family, as a nucleus.

Some of the settlements are in Arab-populated areas where there have been riots protesting the plans for new Jewish settlements - plans which to date have not been completed.

A Likud official said the new cities planned for the West Bank area could be occupied by Jews who will commute to work in Israel. There is an acute housing shortage in Israel, especially for low and moderate income families, and the Likud plan calls for shifting construction of new housing units from predominantly Jewish areas into the former Arab territories. Those who need apartments will therefore have to move to the West Bank.