The Israeli government has quietly resumed ground-clearing work for Jewish settlements at key sites in Samarla on the occupied West Bank.

This is the populated Arab hill country north of Jerusalem that the previous Labor government left unsettled to keep open the possibility of territorial compromise in a peace agreement with Jordan. The right-wing Likud apparently feels no such restraint. But to avoid Ametrican wrath it has agreed to keep new settlements within the perimeters of army camps.

The site at Haris, three miles northwest of the Arab town of Salfit, is on a newly leveled dirt road. A young infantryman with a M 16 assault rifle stopped us at an improvised barbed wire barrier.

"Who are you?" He asked. "Just visitors," we replied. "Are you on the list of settlers?" We said we were not. "In that case, you can't go any further. Why not? "This is an army camp."

We drove away. But even from the road, we could see two bulldozers clearing a hilltop tract. Water pipes were heaped by the roadsides. Fifty yards beyond the barrier, half a dozen prefabricated buildings housed the first pioneers.

Haris takes its name from a nearby Arab village. This is rocky, highland terrain, suited to sheep and olive groves, but with little to offer the modern, market-oriented Israeli farmer. Haris is planned as a Jewish town.

There is no visible evidence that it was a military installation before Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government was determined to spread in what it calls the ancient "land of Israel."

At Nabi Salah, eight miles further south toward Ramallah, the reception was less hostile. "Welcome" read a Hebrew sign painted on the gate of an old British police outpost. The sentry lowered the rope barrier without demur. A young woman was pouring raspberry juice for a dozen kindergarden children playing in the heat.

We exchanged greetings cordially enough, but she immediately let us know that there could be no interviews. Only the "spokesman" would talk to the press and he was away. In something less than interviews with the young woman and other settlers, it emerged that there were 13 families living in the police barracks.

This time there was no doubt that Nabi Salah was also a military base. The building was decorated with the emblem of the border police and was manned by a platoon of young soldiers, who were hoeing a patch of vegetables in a court yard - the only agricultural effort we saw in a day's tour of Samaria settlements.

The settlers expected to move to a site that again was being cleared by two bulldozers. It was a full 200 years outside the rusty wire fence of the police compound. A quarter of a mile to the right one could see the small Arab village of Nabi Salah. A surveyor's map showed plans for 70 houses in a new settlements with central administrative buildings.

Shiloh, by contrast, was positively soporific. The Ark of the Covenant rested here for two centuries, from the days of Joshua to the days of Samuel, and the Gush Emunim settlement movement seems content to do the same. It is declared to be an archeological site. Four more prefabs had been added to the unauthorized settlement, just off the Ramallah-Nablus road. Since I was last there in February. No bulldozers clattered and no one bustled. Most of the men had gone to work elsewhere.

The point about Shiloh is that the dozen founding families are still there, although there is clearly no archeological excavating for them to do. The government has stopped demanding that the settlers leave.

The minister of energy and infrastructure, Yitzhak Moda I, drove up while we were there. He had come to see what services the settlers needed. "There will be a settlement here," he confided.