King Hussein's intention to sever ties between Jordan and the West Bank has elicited sharply different interpretations from the coalition partners of Israel's divided government. Premier Minister Yitzhak Shamir, head of the Likud bloc, interprets the King's move as confirmation that the ``Jordanian option'' is dead. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor Party insists the concept is still alive.
The ``Jordanian option,'' as part of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, would return nearly all of the West Bank to Jordan's control in return for Jordan's keeping the territory's 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants tranquil and, presumably, free from the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In his speech Sunday, King Hussein said he was severing legal and administrative links between Jordan and the West Bank, in order to clear the way for the PLO to ``secede'' and set up an independent state.
``Hussein has shattered the illusion that he is a partner in territorial compromise,'' said Mr. Shamir.
Shamir has always opposed turning over any land to anyone else's control. He said that Jordan must remain a partner for peace talks, but that the most relevant disposition now for West Bank Palestinians is autonomy, as outlined in the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel.
In fact, though, ``autonomy'' has come to be a Likud code word for perPetual Israeli control of the West Bank, even though the Camp David accords envisaged a transitional phase during which the occupied territories' final status would be negotiated.
The Labor Party and its leader, Mr. Peres, seem to have been thrown on the defensive. Hussein's move appears to undermine a central principle of the party's platform - that only by turning control of the territories and their more than 1 million Palestinian inhabitants over to moderate Jordan can Israel maintain its Jewish and democratic character. By disassociating himself from the West Bank, Hussein seemed to have canceled his status as the major party to an agreement on the area's future. A territorial compromise with Jordan appears out of the question.
The Labor Party has invested heavily in the ``Jordanian option.'' Peres and Hussein even reportedly met in April 1987 to negotiate the details of an international conference to settle the issue.
Labor Party officials insist that despite the King's declarations, Jordan, which has the longest border with Israel, would have to be a prime partner to any peace talks. They also say that the practical consequences of the King's statements remained to be seen, adding that Jordan could not easily disassociate itself from the West Bank.
A shift of emphasis, however, could already be detected in declarations by Labor Party spokesmen.
They asserted that Palestinians should also be partners in peace talks, while some party officials called for elections in the West Bank to produce local representatives for negotiations with Israel.
``We are ready to negotiate with Jordan on peace with Jordan, ready to negotiate with the Palestinians on a solution to the Palestinian problem,'' said Peres. In the past, Peres has supported talks with a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation.
The PLO is not an acceptable negotiating partner to either Israeli party.
Labor's campaign manager, former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, told a party meeting that he favored talks with a Palestinian leadership, and even the PLO, if it recognized Israel, and, United Nations Resolution 242, and was prepared to arrive at a peaceful settlement. Resolution 242 embodies the concept of trading land for peace.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, also of Labor, said the ``Jordanian option'' was still alive but depended largely on Israel's policies and the government that takes office after the forthcoming election.
While both Likud and Labor have said there would be no change in political positions, Jordan's disengagement from the West Bank could have a crucial effect on the debate between the parties during Israel's forthcoming election campaign.
In the West Bank, Palestinians were confused about the immediate consequences of the King's declarations, which outlined no specific measures.
``The truth is that no one really knows what will happen,'' said a truck driver at the village of A-Ram, north of Jerusalem.
West Bank Palestinians were still speculating yesterday on the lengths King Hussein would go to demonstrate his disconnection from the West Bank. Some said they feared an imminent revocation of Jordanian passports carried by Palestinians in the West Bank, while others were less concerned.
``We don't want anything from Jordan, thank you,'' said a Palestinian fruit vendor at A-Ram. ``We don't need their assistance. We have our own dignity.
``It doesn't matter if they take away their [Jordanian] passports,'' he added. ``We don't want to travel. We want to live and die here in our country. This is more important than anything.''