"IN MY OPINION," Crown Prince Fahd of

Saudi Arabia declared last August, the Europeans should move in the Middle East in "two directions: one toward the Middle East and the other toward the United States." The Europeans, in a deep bow to Saudi power, are now responding. By way of gaining a better hearing for their Mideast views in the United States, they are offering to contribute troops to the multinational peacekeeping force that the administration is organizing in the Sinai desert. Their move "toward the Middle East" is to start supporting the "plan for a peaceful settlement of the Palestine question" that the crown prince offered in his August statement.

For the Europeans, their new turn has an evident appeal. It lets them get partly back in stride in the Mideast with the United States, which is pleased to have some of the edge of isolation taken off its policy in the area. It also lets them get in full diplomatic stride with the Mideast country that is most important to them. To put troops into the Sinai and search for a means to find what France calls a "bridge" from Camp David to the Saudi plan is an agreeable piece of work for the Europeans, whose influence cannot be decisive in any case. They evidently feel they have nothing to lose in American disfavor--anyway they are showing the flag in the Sinai--and much to gain in Saudi favor by smiling on the Saudi plan.

That plan is only beginning to be looked at carefully by the United States, which is necessarily committed to going with Camp David as far as the Israelis and Egyptians will permit. Certainly the idea of a Saudi plan is intriguing. It suggests that the Saudis, who have done everything they could to spoil the American effort at a comprehensive settlement, have finally decided to engage in their own. Their experience as a peacemaker in Lebanon seems to have raised their diplomatic confidence. That the Palestinian-autonomy talks between Israel and Egypt seem grounded, and that the Sadat era has ended, add to the sense that it is a good moment to prepare something new.

All the more unfortunate, then, that the Saudi plan itself is, at least in its current form, a limited and in some ways disagreeable document. The Saudis would have Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, with the Palestinians receiving first a brief U.N. protectorate and then a state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Only by a glancing reference to "the right of the states in the region to live in peace" is Israel's existence confirmed. There is no talk either of negotiations as a method of peacemaking or of normal relations as a method of peacekeeping. The United States should simply put "Israeli arrogance" to an end by "ceasing its unlimited support." The Saudi responsibility, suggested only implicitly, is to deliver the Palestinians, whose role is undetailed. Old Security Council resolutions are ignored, a new one recommended.

Well, it is major progress for the Saudis to leave open a Mideast place for Israel, even by inference. But they still have a long way to go. Is it possible for the Europeans to intersperse, among their murmurings of praise for Saudi diplomacy, a few tips on how the crown prince might improve his design to the point where a self-respecting American government could take it seriously? Or do the Europeans simply mean to take the plan, supinely, as it stands?