An article Thursday said that an Israeli commission of inquiry found former defense minister Ariel Sharon "personally responsible" for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. The language of the report was simply "The minister of defense bears personal responsibility."

Early this month, at the two narrow bridges that link the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Jordan and the rest of the Arab world beyond, more than two dozen Palestinians traveling east were turned back by Jordanian authorities.

The reasons were somewhat murky and the new restrictions on entry did not appear to be imposed uniformly. But fueled by reports in Al Quds, an East Jerusalem Arab newspaper with close ties to Jordanian officials in Amman, the word spread quickly in the West Bank: King Hussein is beginning to close Jordan's open door to the Palestinians in the aftermath of the collapse of his talks with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Yesterday the Jordanian government took another step in that direction. The Interior Ministry announced that henceforth Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be allowed to enter the country only across the Jordan River bridges. The purpose of the regulation is to prevent Palestinians from evading restrictions on their length of stay in Jordan by using the now insignificant exit routes through Israel itself or Egypt.

It has become clear that the breakdown in the Hussein-Arafat talks and the failure of the Reagan initiative have returned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an elemental level--a demographic struggle over where the stateless Palestinians will live and who will be responsible for them.

In that struggle, Jordan has made clear it will act above all to protect what it considers its own national interest. Sometimes referred to as "the shock absorber of the Palestinian problem," Jordan absorbed two huge waves of Palestinians--in 1948 when Israel was created and after the 1967 war in which Israel captured the West Bank from Jordanian control. As a result, an estimated 60 percent of Jordan's population of 2.4 million claim some Palestinian background.

How far Hussein is prepared to go in restricting the flow of Palestinians into Jordan is not yet clear. But he has several measures under consideration and his reasons for taking steps now, according to Jordanian and western diplomatic sources, are no mystery.

Fearful of a mass migration of Palestinians as Israeli settlement in the West Bank continues, Hussein, in the words of one diplomat, is "laying down a marker" that there are limits to the number of Palestinians Jordan can absorb.

Beyond that, Hussein, who is described as frustrated and angry at the collapse of his talks with Arafat, is said to hope that eventually he can pressure the West Bank Palestinians into demanding a softening of the PLO's objections to President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative or even break openly with the organization.

This could lead to what Hussein wants but was denied by the PLO in April--Palestinian authorization to enter negotiations under the Reagan plan on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But there is also widespread skepticism that this latter objective can be achieved soon or that Hussein will be willing or able to impose stringent restrictions on the flow of traffic east.

Two of the most prominent Palestinian residents of Jordan, the former West Bank mayors Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron and Mohammad Hassan Milhem of Halhoul, deposed and deported by Israel, said in separate interviews that they are confident Hussein will not "wash his hands" of the West Bank and Gaza, throwing the problem entirely into the lap of the PLO as some fear. Jordan and the West Bank are too closely linked by history, geography and psychology and Hussein too limited in the actions he could take, for the king to turn his back on the Palestinians, they said.

Both also argued that without credible signs that the United States is prepared to back up its peace initiative by forcing a curb on Israeli settlements, no amount of Jordanian pressure is likely to have the desired political effect in the West Bank.

"If people know that the Reagan plan can be implemented and is credible, but that someone the PLO is holding it back, then they would seek change," Milhem said. "But if they are confident that Jordan can't do it end the Israeli occupation and America is not serious about it, then they say why change anything."

So far, Jordan's restrictions have been mild. They involve turning back people of military service age, between 16 and 26, whom Israel allows out of the occupied territories on condition they not return for at least nine months.

But according to sources here, Jordan is discussing and is likely soon to approve more sweeping measures designed to discourage emigration from the West Bank.

These include, the sources said, allowing most West Bank Palestinians to remain in Jordan for only one to three months and requiring Palestinians who travel through Jordan to other Arab countries to return every year or so, to prevent Israeli authorities from claiming they have "abandoned" their homes.

Whether all of these measures will be promulgated and how strictly they will be enforced at the Allenby and Damiya bridges, the two crossing points between the West and East Banks, are matters of intense speculation here.

The measures under discussion by Jordan now were foreshadowed by Hussein's April 10 statement on the breakdown of his talks with Arafat.

"We leave it to the PLO and the Palestinian people to choose the ways and means for the salvation of themselves and their land, and for the realization of their declared aims in the manner they see fit," Hussein said. Jordan, he said, would take "all steps necessary to safeguard our national security in all its dimensions."

In a television interview in Washington Sunday that was broadcast here, Hussein's younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan, elaborated on Jordan's evolving policy.

He said Jordan would impose measures "aimed only at restricting the demographic move" of Palestinians out of the West Bank, suggesting that there will be no curbs on the flow of agricultural and other products that are vital to the territory's struggling economy.

"Just to sit back and say Jordan can be the repository is just impossible," Hassan said. "We cannot be a stable repository. Our per capita income has gone up from less than $400 after the 1967 war to $2,000, which in relative terms is good. But we can't maintain the standard of living or improve on it if suddenly a deluge of people descends on our head."

The deluge Hassan said he fears could result from the stepped-up Israeli settlement of the West Bank and increasingly harsh measures by Israeli occupation authorities. Convinced that the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin hopes to empty the West Bank of much of its Arab population to ease the territory's absorption by Israel, Jordanian officials take seriously the implicit threat in the frequent assertion by former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon that "Jordan is the Palestinian state."

"They see starkly the threat of a trickle turning into a flood," said one diplomat.

Even what is described as a "trickle" of Arabs out of the West Bank has largely offset the territory's high birth rate and kept its population relatively stable at about 700,000, excluding East Jerusalem.

According to an analysis by Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli planner who has studied land use and population trends in the West Bank, "There has been a constant migration from the West Bank except in 1969 and 1973. The total emigration figures between 1948 and 1980 (about 100,000) equal half the natural increase. In 1980, 83 percent of the natural increase was eliminated by emigration (17,100)."

In 1981, according to Israeli Army figures, Palestinian traffic on the two Jordan River bridges totaled 430,000 crossings into Israel and 462,900 out of Israel.

These trends have allowed the Begin government to counter the assertions of critics of its settlement policies that Israel will never be able to absorb the West Bank without risking its identity as the Jewish state.

There are signs, however, that the flow of Palestinians from the West Bank is slowing, in part because falling oil prices have reduced job opportunities in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. As a result of the depressed oil market, according to a western diplomat here, potential restrictions on the Palestinians are not confined to Jordan.

"There is a lot of talk in the gulf about tightening work permits and the like," he said. "It fits into a broader pattern of things around the area."

Last year, Jordan took an early step in this direction by imposing limits on the number of West Bank students allowed to enroll at Jordanian universities. Jordanian officials say that the West Bank students should be educated at home, although they agree that the three main West Bank universities are not capable of accepting all the potential students.

What prompted the new restrictions Hussein is considering was the collapse of his negotiations with Arafat, according to many sources. This led to the realization here that the PLO is not in as big a hurry for a peace settlement as the king and has led Hussein to consider measures that would make clear to Palestinians--especially those in the West Bank--some of the consequences of continued stalemate.

Adding to Hussein's impatience with the PLO is a kind of backlash against the Palestinians among the Jordanian population. According to an Amman journalist, there is a growing feeling that because Jordan has served as a "safety valve" from the rigors of living under Israeli military occupation, West Bank Arabs have been content to let matters drift.

"I think the king wants the Palestinians to feel they are really under occupation and to create the kind of pressure that will force a political decision by the Palestinian leadership," he said.

Such moves would put the PLO in a difficult position. Jordanian officials are already arguing that it is imperative, in Hassan's words, to "preserve the Arab character of the occupied territories" in order to thwart Israel's "annexation schemes."

"No one criticizes the Jordanian government for trying not to have people leave the occupied territories," Milhem said.

At the same time, restrictions on Palestinian emigration would undoubtedly cause new hardship for West Bank residents. Curbing the flow of agricultural products across the bridges or closing the exit routes entirely would risk making the West Bank even more dependent on Israel than it already is and all but assure that the territory will eventually be "swallowed" by Israel, observers on both sides of the Jordan River say.

Hussein apparently is willing to risk some alienation from the West Bank, as well as counterpressure by the PLO and other Arab states, in order to "lay down his marker" on the limits of Jordan's willingness to accept more Palestinians. But his more subtle political objective of inducing a change in West Bank acceptance of the PLO's stance on the Reagan initiative appears to be a long shot.

"He is not hearing enough voices from here," said Elias Freij, the Palestinian mayor of Bethlehem, after a recent visit to Amman. Freij, who is considered a moderate by Israel, is clearly one of those Hussein would like to see speaking out. Yet despite grave concerns about the fate of a West Bank caught between Israeli occupation and Jordanian restrictions, there are few signs to suggest any fundamental change is in the offing.

Kawasmeh, who along with Milhem was mentioned as a potential member of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team to pursue the Reagan initiative, said he will continue to be guided by the PLO. With Amman filled with rumors of what Jordan might do about the West Bank Palestinians, he said: "King Hussein can do what he wants, but he hasn't the right to speak for the Palestinians.