I would feel both extreme sympathy and extra anxiety about King Hussein of Jordan on the occasion of his visit in Washington this week were it not for the fact that over the 30 years of his reign he has survived ordeals and dangers exceeding this one.
Ulysses trying to navigate his way between Scylla and Charybdis had an easy time compared to the voyages in war, politics, and diplomacy which the present head of the Hassemite dynasty has survived since the day his grandfather, King Abdullah, was assassinated - while standing next to him. That sort of an experience leaves a lasting impression on a young man. He was 17 at the time. King Hussein is familiar with danger.
His danger this time is that he will be persuaded by President Reagan to play a role in the next round of talks about peace in the Middle East and that the round will end, as so many before have ended, in a further advance of Israeli territory at Arab expense.
The King favors President Reagan's peace proposals of last September. He favors them both publicly and privately. He would be happy and delighted to join in the work of achieving the Reagan plan, if the plan enjoyed a reasonable chance of success.
The plan proposes the setting up on the West Bank and Gaza of a Palestine self-governing entity ''in association with Jordan.'' That would be fine for the King and for Jordan - provided it meant a truly independent Palestine community occupying most of the territory of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. King Hussein would be a hero to his own people and throughout the whole of Arabia - if he could share in bringing about such a condition.
But suppose that he agrees to join in negotiations looking toward such an outcome and those negotiations end, not in a real Palestinian political entity associated with Jordan, but in a breakdown of the talks a year or so from now. In that event Israel would be seated more solidly than ever in the occupied territories. There would be more Jewish settlements in what was Arab land.
If that is the outcome of negotiations then King Hussein will be seen among his own people and through all Arabia as a traitor who has lent his name and prestige to the setting up of a facade behind which the Israelis will again have added to their territories.
King Hussein cannot afford to be a party to talks which turn out in the end to be a mere cloak for Israeli expansion. His great-grandfather, Sherif Hussein, was pushed off his throne by the British for refusing to accept a Jewish homeland in Palestine. His grandfather was killed by Arabs for trying to make peace with Israel. His friend and colleague, President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, was killed by Arabs in part for making peace with Israel. He has himself many times been subject to attempted assassination for being moderate toward Israel and always ready for a fair settlement which would leave the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in Arab hands.
What chance is there that the negotiations he might enter now would end in independence for the Arabs of the occupied territories as contemplated by United Nations Resolution 242, by Camp David, and by the Reagan peace plan?
The chances would be excellent if the record showed a willingness on the part of the government in Washington to use its enormous leverage on Israel to bring about the desired end of the Reagan peace plan. Israel's economy and Israel's military power rest on an American subsidy of roughly $3 billion a year - much of it in the most sophisticated of American weapons. If it were to be withheld subject to Israeli compliance with the President's peace proposals, King Hussein could afford to join the talks.
But President Eisenhower was the last US president to use American leverage on Israel. Every president since then has given Israel what it wanted. In effect , the US has subsidized the steady expansion of Israeli territory in Arabia while protesting to the Arabs that it is ''evenhanded.''
President Reagan failed to use leverage to prevent the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He failed to honor the US promise to the PLO that the women and children left behind in Lebanon when the fighting men went away would be protected. He failed this month to dissuade the Congress from upping Israel's subsidy above the already generous provisions of the current Reagan budget.
The record does not give King Hussein reason to think that President Reagan is now ready to use his leverage on Israel to make negotiations worthwhile. He cannot afford to join in cloaking more Israeli expansion. Yet he must be as helpful as possible to the President. It is not an easy hand to play.