In its search for peace in the Mideast the United States has staked out a central role for Jordan's King Hussein. The Reagan peace plan, announced by the President Sept. 1, calls for creation of a Palestinian entity on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to be governed in assocation with Jordan, and for King Hussein to negotiate the establishment of such an entity on behalf of the Palestinians.
The King has indicated his desire to enter negotiations, but only if the Palestine Liberation Organization asks him to represent Palestinian interests. The US refuses to talk directly to the PLO until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.
Discussions between Hussein and PLO leader Yasser Arafat in early April broke down after the two leaders failed to agree on a joint approach to the Reagan plan. The Israeli government immediately rejected the Reagan peace plan, saying it deviated from the Camp David peace framework.
Washington hopes a strong commitment from Hussein to solve the Palestinian problem will trigger a response among Israelis willing, in effect, to trade the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza for peace. The feeling is that Israelis such as those in the Peace Now movement would organize a grass-roots campaign in Israel to back negotiations and thus pressure Prime Minister Menachem Begin to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Though Amman sources say King Hussein understands the US logic and holds some sympathy for it, a senior Jordanian official called the scenario ''wishful thinking.''