Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a vigorous critic of previous Israeli-Palestinian accords, has begun laying the groundwork for his own first proposal to settle the conflicting national claims to the West Bank.

Deliberately vague and not discussed openly yet, the proposal implies Israeli annexation of the larger part of the territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War. Among the lands that would pass from Israeli military rule to outright Israeli sovereignty are the principal aquifers, columns of territory along the West Bank's borders with Israel and Jordan, and a corridor from Jerusalem to the Jordan River that would cut the West Bank in half.

The broad principles used to describe the plan suggest that Palestinians would receive three or four noncontiguous enclaves, amounting to roughly 40 percent of the territory of the West Bank, drawn to enclose nearly all of the Palestinian population.

The Palestinian entity, lacking statehood and possessing no border with Jordan, would be sandwiched between territories annexed by Israel and sliced by four east-west roadways controlled by the Israeli army.

Although Netanyahu now treats the plan publicly as something "I've offered," his government has not discussed it with Palestinians and has no present plans to do so.

Drafters of the proposal, which has been outlined to his security cabinet and a few journalists, said it is addressed primarily to Israeli domestic politics -- reassuring, in the main, to right-wing rebels in Netanyahu's governing coalition and intended as a challenge to the opposition Labor Party's new leader, Ehud Barak.

The proposal's broad mooting in Israeli debate comes amid the most serious sustained crisis in Israeli-Palestinian talks since the two peoples reached mutual recognition in 1993. Palestinian leaders, who broke off negotiations when Netanyahu sent bulldozers to East Jerusalem in March to begin work on a new Jewish neighborhood, said the recent leaks are further evidence that Netanyahu means to impose unacceptable terms.

"We have heard about this plan only in the newspaper," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said grimly in an interview today. "Why bother telling us? The real negotiation is taking place within his own coalition, and with us he feels he can dictate."

For Israeli swing voters and for audiences outside Israel, especially the United States, Israel's strategic ally, Netanyahu is calling his proposal an "accommodation with reality" after years of resisting territorial compromise.

In his 1995 book, "A Place Among the Nations," Netanyahu proposed a limited autonomy for Palestinians in "four self-managing Arab counties" that together would "take up no more than one-fifth of the land" -- half of what is said to be on offer now.

Netanyahu dubbed his peace proposal "Allon Plus," suggesting an improvement on a 1968 partition plan by then-deputy prime minister Yigal Allon, who would have ceded two-thirds of the West Bank. Citing one of the Labor Party's founding heroes, wrote commentator Roni Shaked, "created an aura of Israeli consensus."

In a visit to Washington on Feb. 13, according to U.S. and Israeli officials, Netanyahu briefed President Clinton at the White House on a precursor to his present plan. At Netanyahu's request, Brig. Gen. Shlomo Barom of the Israeli army's planning branch gave Clinton a detailed presentation on a classified army-drawn map of Israel's security interests in the West Bank.

Clinton, according to a U.S. official who has read a written account of the meeting, responded with a single word, "Interesting." The U.S. official rejected an Israeli assertion, also provided on condition of anonymity, that Clinton suggested he "understood the intentions and logic of the map."

American policymakers, insisting that the United States take no position on the final division of land between Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, were said to have expressed disapproval of Netanyahu's decision to launch a conspicuous internal debate on the plan without bringing it to his ostensible negotiating partners.

"One of the greatest Palestinian concerns is that his approach is to impose a solution, to dictate to them, and precisely at the time we're trying to get around this impression, this comes out," said one official, speaking anonymously. "Something which could be interpreted as an opening position in the negotiation is immediately dismissed {by Palestinians} as an example of why there's no point in negotiating, when it comes out in this kind of environment."

Israeli drafters of the plan disagreed, arguing that it is essential to successful talks that both the Israeli and Palestinian publics come to understand what is possible and what is not.

"One of the problems we've faced until now was that the Palestinians defined their goals in very specific terms, a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, and Israel defined its goals in abstract terms, peace alone," said Dore Gold, Netanyahu's ambassador-designate to the United Nations. "This raised the danger that peace would be on the terms of whichever party defined it most specifically. One of the things this plan does is to shift the psychology of expectations."

Even more important to Netanyahu, Gold said, is that the plan continues the premier's shift "to the center of Israeli politics." Several commentators noted that Netanyahu outlined the plan to his security cabinet the same day the Labor Party chose Barak, a former general, to fight Netanyahu for the swing vote in the next general election.

Under interim agreements negotiated by Netanyahu's Labor predecessors with Arafat, the West Bank is now divided into three kinds of territory in a patchy map that Palestinians call "the leopard."

In six Palestinian cities and most of a seventh -- 3 percent of the West Bank's territory and 29 percent of its Arab population -- the Israeli army is gone. A little more than 24 percent of the territory -- containing 67 percent of the Arab population -- is a mixture of Israeli military and Palestinian civil rule.

The largest part of the West Bank -- a little more than 72 percent of the territory but only 4 percent of the Arab population -- is entirely in Israel's hands.

Israel promised to hand three additional chunks of the West Bank to Palestinian self-rule before the crucial period of negotiations on the final borders and sovereignty of the aspiring Palestinian state, but Netanyahu halted those "further redeployments" as part of his current dispute with Arafat.

The army map shown to Clinton, examined recently by The Washington Post, describes the principal regions of the West Bank with security value to Israel. It was not apparent from the map precisely what proportion of the occupied territory the "map of interests" represents, but it appeared to amount to roughly half.

The army map, described by Netanyahu aides as the basis for the premier's intended proposal, begins with the strategic Jordan Valley as a barrier against attack from the east. On the other side of the West Bank, where it meets Israel's pre-1967 border, the army has drawn in a north-south "seam strip" of varying width, thickest in the northern West Bank to incorporate heavy Jewish settlement there and the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer.

Additional Israeli interests, on the army map, include four east-west "strategic axes" enabling the movement of heavy equipment between Israel and the Jordan valley; the settlements and their surroundings; a broad "defense zone" around Jerusalem and nearby Jewish settlements; high ground on the Samarian hills for intelligence and air defense emplacements; and "lifelines" of traffic, electricity and water pipes.

Senior army officers interviewed about the map said it was intended to identify interests, not "red lines" beyond which the Jewish state would be in danger. Asked in a recent interview whether the security interests on the map could be compromised, Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, armed services chief of staff, declined to answer. "That," he said, "is a political decision." CAPTION: A Palestinian woman cries out as an Israeli soldier holds her son on suspicion of throwing stones in a second day of clashes in Hebron over U.S. House passage of a resolution calling for recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.