THE SUMMIT meeting of Morocco's King Hassan II and Israel's Shimon Peres was being written off in many quarters, including some in Israel, even before it ended. The hard-pressed king is only trying to earn points in Washington, it was said; lame duck Peres is looking for a diplomatic splash to extend his lease on the prime minister's office. It was observed that the king asked his guest to endorse the two broad Arab demands, dealing with the PLO and withdrawing from occupied lands, and Mr. Peres said no. ''Since you refuse those two fundamental priorities,'' the king said, ''let's stop and say goodbye.''

But really now, did anyone expect ''fundamental'' change, in two days? Or expect either summiteer to act against his political interest? The summit would have been useful enough just to show that, nearly a decade after Anwar Sadat's flight to Jerusalem, a second Arab leader has the courage and maturity to accept 1) direct and 2) acknowledged meetings with Israel. Only by this method can progress come -- and not only for Israelis. They have a surpassing interest in demonstrating that, when a channel is opened, Arabs at the other end are rewarded for their pains.

A minuet took place over the king's effort to provide himself political cover by drawing about him an Arab League mandate. In receiving Mr. Peres at the front door, he clearly was conducting the national policy of a sovereign state, one whose special situation has drawn it toward civility with Israel even though a formal state of belligerency still holds. But the king also has the status of being chairman of the last Arab summit, at Fez in 1982, and so he was in a position to carry to Mr. Peres the Arab peace proposal adopted at that time. From an official Israeli perspective, the Fez Plan has more minuses than pluses; no negotiations are known to have taken place on it after 1982. But as part of the bargaining before and at his meeting in Morocco, Mr. Peres agreed, in a coveted joint statement, to have his talks with the king described as ''devoted essentially'' to a study of Fez.

Arab-Israeli peace-making has been at a low ebb -- too low for either side to ignore even modest possibilities now. The peace between Jerusalem and Cairo is ''cold.'' The bargaining connection that Jordan's King Hussein tried to make with the PLO's Yasser Arafat never got made. Syria, which this week broke relations with Morocco, remains moored in hard-line concrete. The United States seems to have retreated to the diplomatic sidelines in the area, disappointing those Arabs and others who regard Washington as the necessary catalyst but leaving others saying that Arabs and Israelis must make peace for themselves. This is the uncertain but intriguing context in which the Morocco summit falls.