Nothing so proves the bankruptcy of Israeli policy as the repression of Palestinians that has been taking place on the West Bank. And nothing so proves the bankruptcy of Palestinian policy as the manner in which the victims are reacting to their latest trial.

The Israelis at least are acting: they have a plan--to crush the PLO-minded elected mayors and recruit docile villagers for their version of autonomy--and they are putting it into effect. Probably correctly, they figure that the local turbulence and external protests will subside. That the Israeli plan is remote from genuine self-determination is exactly its appeal in Jerusalem. That it may be hard to get off the ground is merely an operational difficulty.

The Palestinians are not acting at all. They are merely reacting, in a piecemeal and ineffective fashion. They have no plan of their own, and they hardly seem to realize that the Israelis have a plan. In their new crisis, all they have been able to muster is moans and shrieks, which can be cashed in easily for a General Assembly resolution but otherwise have the value of czarist bonds. The Palestinians actually seem to believe that, to get what you want in politics, it is enough to spout poetry, avoiding the hard choices.

All of this was summed up the other day at a Washington lunch addressed by Avi Oz, a Hebrew University political scientist who is ready and eager to meet Palestinians on the West Bank halfway, and Salim Tamari, a sociologist at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank who is no less ready to meet Israel halfway. Oz, the Israeli, was saying that the Begin policy is meeting a growing challenge in Israel-- 20,000-plus people had turned out to demonstrate. Tamari, the Palestinian, acknowledged it was so.

Listening to these two decent men, I felt that both of them seemed to be looking to the Israeli political process alone for change. This is characteristic in these discussions: the Israelis are expected to convert, or to be brought around by pressure. Little is asked of the Palestinians.

I asked Tamari, the Palestinian, whether his people were actually prepared to wait for the development of Israeli public opinion in order to achieve their political goals.

He responded by listing the little wispy retractable statements of readiness to countenance coexistence that Palestinians have been slipping out for some eight years, along with all the other bloody- minded stuff. In some ideal diplomatic nirvana where rational people were prepared to deal just in nuances, these statements might mean something. In the rough, gouging, for-keeps world in which Israelis and Palestinians actually live, they mean unfortunately little.

Tamari said that at this point, for the Palestinians to compose a unified statement on coexistence with Israel would cause "a split in the ranks."

There, I thought, is the single simple explanation for the Palestinians' calamitous political failure to date. There is one thing the PLO could do that would make infinitely more of a difference than any of the other things it already does in organization, propaganda and combat and terror. It could make an unequivocal statement that the Palestinian national movement accepts the Jewish state and will sit down with its representatives and work things out.

The Palestinians and their friends can give you a dozen reasons why this is unimaginably difficult and grossly unfair, why the Israelis must first do this and the Americans that, why it would cause "a split in the ranks." To me these amount to a dozen different evasions. They are poetry in a situation crying for politics, for choices.

The Palestinians are gaining in some sectors of official and public opinion in this country and elsewhere. Meanwhile, they are losing their land. They can make the requisite real-world breakthrough only by Israel's consent, and Israel will not conceivably even consider giving its consent-- nor will Israel's friends, as sympathetic as they may be to the Palestinians, undertake to make Israel do so--until the Palestinians dispense with their bloody-mindedness in word and deed.

The Palestinians are aggrieved, we know. What we don't know is whether they are serious. As long as they leave their future up to others--Israelis, fellow Arabs, Americans or whoever--they will have no future.