Before he ever left home, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had heard the rumor: They were tightening the screws in Washington. "God knows" what was going to happen in the Cabinet Room when he and Jimmy Carter finally met, as Begin told it at a White House dinner in his honor last night.

"I can attest that nothing happened in the Cabinet Room, and no pressure was exerted and no confrontation took place," Begin said to general laughter. Jimmy Carter's was among the loudest.

Begin's feisty defense came a week to the day after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had stood in the same room, invited by the same host, talking about the same thorny subject: the stalled state of the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks to resolve the question of Palestinian autonomy. That night, Carter and Sadat sang the same tune: promises, promises.

Last night, with 140 guests -- among them the wife of one of the hostages in Iran -- listening for the slightest nuance that might signal a change in Begin's now-familiar stance, the Israeli replied to the Sadat-Carter message. Israel has fulfilled the Camp David accord "to the letter, to the dot," he said.

A long, rambling toast by Begin, punctuated at times with humor and at others with pathos, followed a tribute from Carter pointedly reminding everyone -- especially Begin -- of the Camp David terms.

Carter said the next step coming up is "how to carry out those detailed, complicated, very carefully negotiated agreements at Camp David; how to define the self-governing authority; how to set up the procedure for the elections."

Recalling the difficult process of peace, Carter said: "When he and I and President Sadat have set our minds to overcoming an obstacle or answering a difficult question, so far -- and I knock on wood -- we have never failed. It would be a tragedy having come this far, to fail."

For the second consecutive week, Carter delivered a firm review of the technical agreements of the Camp David accords -- as Carter put it, accords "signed with our word of honor and our nation's honor."

Begin took advantage of his White House forum to deliver a wide-ranging speech that denounced the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, sympathized with America's plight in Iran, scoffed at a policy of "expediency" in seeking favor from the Islamic world. And much, much more.

On Afghanistan: "Through Baluchistan, the Soviet army can reach the Indian Ocean in no time and there is no real force to stop them there."

On Iran: Had the hostages been Russian, the Soviet Union would have marched on Tehran the same day "and wouldn't have given a damn for the hostages."

On the hostages: "We have had such experiences -- how many, how many. Our children were taken hostage, not only our men."

On allies: "There are two categories of American allies. The first are allies, and the second are reluctant allies. May I tell you that Israel belongs to the first category."

On the PLO: "A terrorist organization with a Nazi philosophy" and an organization "bent on the destruction of Israel."

Carter opened his remarks with a reference to his recent problems with the American Jewish community, the result of the U.S. vote in the United Nations on the question of Israeli settlement policies.

"I have noticed that when Prime Minister Begin and I agree, we both prosper," said Carter, as his audience laughed. "Lately, for instance, my own policies have caused him some trouble, as you may have noticed a month or so ago, on the West Bank of the Jordan, and I might say that our disagreement also caused me some trouble on the East Bank of the Hudson River."

Some of Carter's dinner guests, however, doubted that he had permanently lost ground within the highly vocal American Jewish community.

Leonard Farber of Pompano Beach, Fla., said that Carter's relationship with the American Jewish community was "a little tough, but I believe that given the choices the electorate has, there is no question of where the Jewish support will be."

Sol Chaikin, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, said, "The president has always known and we have always felt that there is room for diversity in the party."

And an old Atlanta friend of the president's, Dr. Marvin Goldstein, called the relationship "still difficult" but predicted that Carter will regain the support of the Jewish community. "In 1973, I went with him on his first trip to Israel, and I saw firsthand his commitment to peace there." h

Asked if Begin's uncompromising position was harmful to U.S. -- Israeli relations, Rep. Clement Zablocki (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, replied: "There is no question that . . . the American public is becoming very concerned about what they perceive as Prime Minister Begin's intransigence."

Carter drew heavily on his Jewish constituency from around the country. There was no doubt that those showing up were staunchly loyal campaign supporters: Rabbi Solomon Gutstein from Chicago; Walter H. Shorenstein of San Francisco; Nathan Landow of Bethesda.

Also in the crowd was Louisa Kennedy, whose husband, Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., is one of the 53 hostages being held by Iranian militants. Escorting her was Assistant Secretary of State Harold H. Saunders. Both talked of messages being relayed by the Red Cross from the hostages to their families. Kennedy said she had not yet received a message from her husband, the economic and commercial officer at the American Embassy before it was overrun, but she expected one soon.

Saunders said he thought that after the transfer of the hostages failed, the Iranians who had been trying to arrange the transfer "urged that the conditions of the hostages" be improved by allowing visits such as that by Red Cross officials.

"There could be assurances of their well-being and reassurances to the families," Saunders said.

Kennedy said she likes to think the Red Cross is "an important step" toward the release of her husband and the others. "And after that the other steps will follow -- the swifter the better."

Dinner was kosher, starting out with salmon with sauce verte, roast duckling with glazed peaches and wild rice, and frozen orange sherbet cake with Grand Marnier sauce. During the entertainment in the East Room that followed, the Guarneri string quartet performed a program by Dvorak.

In the East Room, as the guests sat down for the entertainment, the atmosphere had the loud, happy sounds of a reunion. The levity was captured by President Carter as he joked about a Carter-Begin ticket.

"We make good music together, we could run together, we'd make a good president and vice president.The prime minister said to me how about Mondale," said Carter, relating what was probably a fictitious conversation. "Then the prime minister said how would you feel about being vice president after being president?" Carter laughed.

Immediately after the Guarneri String Quartet finished, the Begins left for the Blair House and the Carters retreated upstairs. Reporters were kept from both men, a ground rule that applied to last week's Sadat dinner also.

As the guests left, Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) pronounced the evening "wonderful," and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron retreated to two arm-chairs. With the State Department officials watching, Vance ended his evening, taking lengthy notes. Guests at Last Night's White House Dinner Prime Minister Menachem Begin & Mrs. Begin. H. E. Yitzhak Shamir, minister of foreign affairs. H. E. Yoset Burg, minister of interior H. E. the Ambassador of Israel & Mrs. Ephraim Evron Chaim Kubersky, director general, minister of interior Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, legal adviser, ministry of foreign affairs Yehiel Kadishai, director prime minister's bureau Brig. Gen. Ephraim Poran, military secretary to the prime minister Mr. Dan Pattir, public affairs adviser to the prime minister Elyakim Rubinstein, assistant director general, ministry of foreign affairs Hon. Zvi Brosh, minister, Embassy of Israel & Mrs. Nehushtan Mr. Gilad Stern, assistant to the minister of interior Hon. Zvi Brosh, minister, Embassy of Israel, & Mrs. Brosh. Mr. and Mrs. Eytan Bentsur, counselor, Embassy of Israel Mr. and Mrs. Avi Pazner, counselor, Embassy of Israel Bazil Lewis, personal physician to the prime minister Vice President & Mrs. Mondale Secretary of State & Mrs. Vance Secretary of Commerce & Mrs. Klutznick Hon. & Mrs. James T. McIntyre, Jr., OMB director Hon. Reubin Askew, special representative for trade negotiations Hon. & Mrs. Zbigniew Brzezinski, assistant to the president for national security affairs Sen. & Mrs. Abraham Ribicoff (Connecticut) Sen. & Mrs. Thomas F. Eagleton (Missouri) Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (Wisconsin) and daughter, Jane Zablocki Rep. & Mrs. Dante F. Fascell (Florida) Rep. Lester L. Wolff (New York) and son Bruce Wolff Rep. & Mrs. Sidney R. Yates (Illinois) Rep. Lindy Boggs (Louisiana) and William Hess Rep. & Mrs. Anthony C. Bellenson (California) Rep. & Mrs. Richard A. Gephardt (Missouri) Rep. S. William Green (Pennsylvania) Hon. Hedley W. Donovan, senior adviser to the president, and daughter, Helen Donovan Hon. & Mrs. Stuart E. Eizenstat, assistant to the president Hon. Anne Wexler, assistant to the president, & Hon. Joseph Duffey Hon. & Mrs. Samuel Lewis, American ambassador to Israel Chief of Protocol & Mrs. Valdez Hon. & Mrs. Sol M. Linowitz, personal representative of the president for Middle East peace negotiations Mr. & Mrs. Alfred Moses, adviser to the president Hon. Harold H. Saunders, assistant secretary of state, and Louisa Kennedy Mr. & Mrs. Robert Hunter, National Security Council staff member Mr. & Mrs. Irving Ackerman, North Miami Beach, Fla. Hon. & Mrs. Abraham D. Beame, New York, N.Y. Mr. & Mrs. Lucian Blackwill, Philadelphia, Pa. Hyman Bookbinder and Ida Leivick, Washington, DC. Hy Brody and Adrienne Dubin Philadelphia, Pa. Mr. & Mrs. Edgar Bronfman pres., Joseph E. Seagram & Son., New York Sol C. Chiakin and Miss Karen Chiakin; pres., International Ladies Garment Workers Union, New York. Mr. and Mrs. David Chase, Chase Enterprises, Hartford, Conn. Mr. and Mrs. John Dalley (entertainer) Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Edelman, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Farber, Pompano Beach, Fla. Ms. Trude B. Feldman and John M. Carter, Washington, D.C. Mr. David Fleeman, Miami Beach, Fla. Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Foster, St. Louis, Mo. Mr. and Mrs. Murray Galinson, La Jolla, Calif. Dr. and Mrs. Marvin Goldstein, Atlanta, Ga. Mr. and Mrs. Bill Goodman, Danbury, Conn. Rabbi & Mrs. Solomon Gutstein, Chicago, Ill. Donald P. Hutchinson, Towson, Md. Mr. and Mrs. Mendel Kaliff, San Antonio, Texas S. Lee Kling Treasurer, Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc. and Mrs. Kling Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Landow, Bethesda, Md. Mr. & Mrs. Frank Lautenberg, president, Automatic Data Processing Inc., Clifton, N.J. Rabbi & Mrs. Irving Lehrman, Temple Emanu-el, Miami Beach, Fla. Rabbi & Mrs. Arthur J. Lelyveld, president, Synagogue Council of America, N.Y.C. Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Levitt, Jr., chairman, American Stock Exchange, N.Y.C. Maury Liebovitz and Althea Viafora, New York, N.Y. Mr. & Mrs. Stanley H. Lowell, attorney, Scarsdale, N.Y. Mr. and Mrs. Morton Mandel president, Council of Jewish Federations & Welfare Funds, Inc., N.Y.C. Hon. & Mrs. Donald R. Manes, President of the Borough of Queens, New York City. Mr. & Mrs. Theodore R. Mann, chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization, N.Y.C. Alice F. Mason and daughter Dominique Richard Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Miller, North Miami Beach, Fla. Mr. & Mrs. Ivan Novick, president, Zionist Organization of America Dr. & Mrs. Stanley J. Pearle, chairman, International Optical Company, Dallas Texas Mr. & Mrs. William Powell, president, Mid-America Dairymen, Princeton, Mo. Mr. & Mrs. Isadore Roosth, Tyler, Texas Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Rubin, president, Federation of Jewish Agencies of Philadelphia Mr. and Mrs. Edward Sanders, Los Angeles, Calif. Mr. & Mrs. Anthony Sansone, Sansone Realty Co., Clayton, Mo. Rabbi & Mrs. Arthur Schneier, World Jewish Congress, N.Y.C. Hon. & Mrs. Jerome Shestack, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission Walter H. Shorenstein chairman, Milton Meyer & Co., San Francisco, Calif. and Douglas Shorenstein. Mr. & Mrs. David Soyer (entertainer), Ervk Spector pres., Fame Fabrics, Inc., and Mrs. Spector. Mr. & Mrs. Arnold Steinhardt (entertainer). Robert S. Strauss chairman, Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc. and Mrs. Strauss. Louise Sunshine and Lee Elman, New York, New York. Hon. & Mrs. Percy Sutton, New York, N.Y. Mr. & Mrs. Ben Tannenbaum, Long Beach, Long Island, N.Y. Mr. & Mrs. Michael Tree, (entertainer). Thomas Vail, editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Mrs. Vail. Dr. & Mrs. Cyril Wecht, Pittsburgh, Pa. Mr. & Mrs. Larry Weinberg, Los Angeles, Calif. Mr. & Mrs. Jerome Zimmerman, Atlanta, Ga.