A behind-the-scenes debate is being conducted within the Israeli government over whether all or parts of the proposed Palestinian autonomy plan could be implemented on the West Bank of the Jordan River soon after the signing of a separate peace treaty with Egypt.
The idea of unilateral imposition of civil autonomy - nothing more than a contingency at this stage and not without formidable opposition - is based on the premise that King Hussein of Jordan will balk indefinitely at participating in the West Bank negotiations, even if he does not close the door formally.
The debate within the West Bank Israeli military government - and also within an interministerial committee appointed recently by Prime Minister Menachem Begin - is over whether a handful of token West Bank Palestinian leaders could be enough at least to get self-rule off to a start.
Some Israeli officials are known to be arguing forcefully that the participation of even a handful of minor Arab functionaries might be enough to convince more influential Palestinians to give it a try.
Contingency plans outlining practical considerations of imposing West Bank autonomy under three separate conditions have already been submitted to the committee's chairman, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, who also is director general of the prime minister's office.
The documents chart the various stages of carrying out autonomy with the cooperation of Jordan, with the cooperation of Egypt only and without the cooperation of any Arab state.
The Camp David accords provide the negotiations with Jordan and West Bank representatives leading to self-rule accompanied by a partial pullout and retrenchment of Israeli troops controlling the area.
There have been reports in the Hebrew press that the government is eager to impose autonomy unilaterally within the next few weeks. The West Bank and Gaza military government, in response, issued a statement that said: "The military government is indeed working on plans for the implementation of the autonomy program in its various aspects, but it is doing so in the context of the interministerial committee appointed by the prime minister."
Government sources said a significant number of policy makers in the military government believes that enlistment of a few minor Arab leaders in support of autonomy would be enough to get the plan started with the help of Palestinians who already work for the occupation government as civil servants.
So far, well known political figures on the West Bank have given no indication of coming forward to help launch the autonomy plan. Not one important Palestinian leader has agreed to participate. Most have bitterly condemned the Camp David agreements as an Israeli trick to maintain control over the areas.
The lesser-known figures most often mentioned are Abdul Raouf Faras, a former senator in the Jordanian parliament from the vicinity of Nablus; Mustafa Doudin, a Hebron area village leader, and Aziz Shehadeh, a Ramallah lawyer who has publicly called on Palestinians not to reject the Camp David accords out of hand.
Any West Bank Palestinians who openly participated in such a plan in the face of Hussein's and Palestinian opposition would be braving bitter perhaps violent, reactions from Palestinians who favor the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The three being mentioned are widely known in the West Bank as having close ties to Jordan and of being outspokenly against the PLO. Also significantly, the three are rural leaders with no political links to the three populous cities of the West Bank - Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron,
Supporters of the idea of imposing autonomy argue that the vast majority of the West Bank's 650,000 residents live outside cities and wield more political influence in terms of votes than the highly visible mayors of the cities. The Hebron area, for example, has about 250,000 residents but only about 80,000 of them live within the urban limits.
The idea of unilateral imposition of self-rule was raised publicly as far back as last November by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and again last month on his return for Camp David. In response to a question at a Sept. 21 press conference, Dayan said Israel could abolish the military government any time it wanted and install and autonomous civilian administration.
The idea could win some Palestinian acceptance for an unlikely reason: Hard-line conservative Israeli politicians have warned repeatedly that autonomy for the West Bank will inevitably lead to a Palestinian state.
Since a Palestinian state is the West Bank some might begin to take the Israeli's dire warnings to heart and decide to give autonomy a try.
A few professors at the militant Bir Zeit University near Nablus have been urging Arabs not to dismiss the autonomy offer, because in the end dream of every Palestinian on the they may be left with nothing. They argue that the plan is a "start" that could eventually lead to full independence.