There can be no hiding the disappointment of the Polish people and their friends and supporters abroad. After building up expectations that General Jaruzelski would soon lift martial law, the military regime has decisively dashed such hopes. This is not to be a lifting of martial on New Year's Eve but only a suspension of it. Clearly there is a residual fear of what might happen if all the controls were suddenly ended - a fear that bears testimony to the deep distrust still dividing Poles from their government.
It is wrong to say that nothing will change. Some measures in the draft bill presented to Parliament can be welcomed, including freeing of most of the Solidarity detainees and ending of travel restrictions and monitoring of mail and phone calls. But by retaining such martial law aspects as press censorship, military courts, prison sentences for public ''disturbances,'' and militarization of certain enterprises, the regime will hang on to consider-able powers. It is carefully preserving its right to step in forcefully when and if it deems necessary.
Why all the buildup, then, followed by the proverbial whimper rather than bang? Is it possible that General Jaruzelski intended to go farther but had to draw back because of political pressures from party hard-liners concerned about going too far too fast? It is impossible to know, but the impression left is that the regime is determined to play it cautiously, proceeding only step by slow step and waiting to see how Poles react before lifting military rule entirely.
This being the case, the United States, too, is justified in ''waiting to see'' before taking any move to lift economic and political sanctions against Poland.
''At this point we don't see anything . . . that would cause us to make a major change,'' commented US Secretary of State Shultz. Indeed, the fact that the present sanctions are mostly symbolic is all the more reason to keep them in place until the Polish government has taken specific actions.
At some point in the next few months, however, it would be well for the US and its Western partners to sit down with the Polish authorities for quiet, low-key discussions. The West needs to know where General Jaruzelski is taking the country and General Jaruzelski needs to know how the West is prepared to be helpful - including a rescheduling of Poland's debts - if Polish conditions improve. By avoiding public rhetoric and the glare of publicity, it is just possible that Poland can be nudged forward and grounds found for a mutual understanding. Diplomacy can be more effective, perhaps, by recognizing that the Polish leadership does not care to be seen negotiating and compromising under public pressure from the West.
General Jaruzelski must know, however, that the few limited steps of relaxation now planned are not sufficient to persuade the US of his good intentions or to dispel the mood of sullenness in the country. Since the whole movement for greater freedom began with a call for economic reform, it is to this goal that the Polish leader might perhaps effectively devote his attention. He has to gear up the reform process somehow; to start relaxing central planning , for instance. Polish workers have yet to be convinced that they will be allowed to play a key role in management of the economy. Why not begin consulting them?
A year after the imposition of martial law General Jaruzelski can say that he has enforced peace in the streets, put more food in the shops, and brought a modicum of order to industry.
But he has not won the hearts and minds of Poles. He has not established that discourse between government and workers urged by Lech Walesa and so essential to achieving a spirit of national cooperation and getting the economy moving.
This is not to say it cannot still be done.