Conscious that time is running out for the Egypt-Israel talks on Palestinian autonomy, President Carter has ordered full steam ahead in the US effort to complete them by the May 1980 target date.
After lagging through the summer and fall, the talks have shown real progress since December, according to persons close to the process, toward the "full autonomy" formula sought in the Camp David peace agreements.
The demanding mission now given chief US Mideast negotiator Sol Linowitz and his State Department team is to help Egypt and Israel find a formula sufficiently attractive to induce Jordan and the Palestinians to join in.
The White House is not at present considering a new summit meeting of Mr. Carter with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin. But such a possibility may grow stronger by March if the new US push produces results that a summit could refine and ratify.
Mr. Carter and his aides are mindful of urgent new pressures for a successful Palestinian settlement. The Afghan and Iranian crises have increased the need of Arab oil states for US protection, but these states want the United States to become an acceptable ally by first dealing with the Palestinian question.
During Mr. Linowitz's recent stopover in Saudi Arabia, Saudi leaders did not threaten cutbacks in oil production, although such a message has been sent by the Saudis through several other channels.
Insiders say the Saudis, while urging the United States to pressure Israel into a solution satisfactory to the Palestinians by May, are silent about what such a solution should contain.
King Hussein of Jordan told Mr. Linowitz, in effect, that while he still saw no incentive for him to join the peace efforts, he would continue to avoid impending them.
A personal misunderstanding between the King and Mr. Carter last year, when the President spurned a bid by King Hussein to visit him in Washington, apparently has been overcome. The Jordanian ruler is expected to see the President this spring or early summer to express Jordan's ideas about a peace settlement.
King Hussein, however, still feels let down by the United States. He has told American visitors that in 1967 US Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg assured him that the US would work for Jordan's recovery from Israel of the lost West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Both King Hussein and the Palestinians (the PLO, the Palestinian emigres, and the residents of the West Bank and Gaza) find it advantageous, US experts say, to stay off the "peace train" as it creeps between the stations of the autonomy talks. The longer they stay out, they hope, the more concessions Mssrs. Sadat and Carter may extract from Israel.
The autonomy talks now have reached the pivotal issues of whether the "self-governing authority" to be elected in the West Bank and Gaza will control the crucial matters of land, water, and internal security during the five- year transition period before the political future of the areas is finally decided.