THERE IS a fuss now over the list of Palestinians nominated by Jordan to join it in talks with the United States. The Israelis, who insist that they want any Arabs who come forward to conduct direct talks with them, see in the list the familiar Arab effort to peel off the United States instead. Nor do they like the particular Palestinians on the list. The State Department took the occasion of the Israeli grumbles to assert that it isn't going to let anybody "veto" its drive for peace in the Middle East.
Well, come on, fellows. In the great bazaar that is the Middle East, who really expected that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, whose fingerprints were on the list the Jordanians passed on to Washington, had it in mind mainly to make things easy for the Israelis? Surely Mr. Arafat was more interested in testing the best opportunity the Palestinians have ever had to open some kind of diplomatic contact with the United States -- and to do so in a fashion allowing him to keep his place in the rapids of Palestinian politics. It is precisely the Palestinian interest in an opening to Washington, of course, that gives the Reagan administration the opportunity to encourage, as a price, a Palestinian opening to Israel. This is key.
And who really expected, for that matter, that an Israeli government composed half of hesitant compromisers and half of scarcely disguised annexationists would leap to accept the first Arafat-Hussein list? Many Israelis fear the United States will be taken in by Arab diplomatic wiles. But many Israelis also suspect their only chance to work toward peace with Palestinians hinges on the United States' capacity to play, sometimes over Israel's express objections, a subtle middleman's role.
The idea of initial talks between the United States and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, to be followed by direct talks with Israel, is King Hussein's. The United States saw in it an opportunity to get away at least for a while from stale arguments over abstract designs and the usual theological details and to bring a political focus to bear on the particular Palestinians -- and on their personal readiness for accommodation -- who might sit down at a negotiating table with Israel.
The United States has to be persistent and inventive enough to create new diplomatic possibilities, even at the risk of strains with Israel along the way, but not so insistent on its own designs as to lose the Israelis' cooperation. No pain, no gain, as the phrase goes. But the bazaar is open.