It was the lunch that wouldn't die. Promoted by Arabs, protested by Jews and canceled once, it nonetheless came to fruition yesterday on the 13th floor of the National Press Building. In fact, lured by delicious controversy, people had been calling for reservations up until noon.

What they got was Dr. Clovis Maksoud of the Arab League, as scheduled.He spoke about the "diplomatic daydreaming" of the Palestinian autonomy talks, as predicated. And received a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, the man who quit his Press Club committee post because he said the lunch proved his organization was "crawling to the Arabs," had a quiet submarine sandwich two floors below. Maksoud's speech, he said, was "the same kind of thing he says on 'Panorama' whenever he gets the chance."

This Middle Eastern skirmish actually started last week when Richard J. Maloy, head of the Press Club's speakers committee, tried to cancel the luncheon because, he said, not enough tickets had been sold. But the Press Club's board of governors overruled his cancellation. Soon after, Maloy charged that the organization was allowing Maksoud to address the luncheon group in return for his throwing a $40,000 "Arab Night" gala at the club. Maloy resigned in protest.

In the middle of all this, Maloy also says he received a phone call from former senator James Abourezk, one of the organizers of Arab Night. Abourezk told hime, Maloy says, that "the leaue had been give a guarantee by the press club that if they agreed to underwrite . . . the party, they could in turn use the press club to make two 'political' statements."

Yesterday, Abourezk, Press Club officials and Maksoud all scofted at these claims. Abourezk, however, did say the Press Club had guaranteed that three events -- Arab Night, Maksoud's speech and another by the oil minister of Kuwait scheduled to be beamed here by satellite this morning to a Press Club breakfast -- were a package deal. He added that Jewish and conservative journalists had been "raising hell about it."

As for Maksoud, he allowed that "it's not always easy to be an Arab at the moment." And in his speech before the 250 predominantly Arab or Arab American luncheon guests, Maksoud called for Palestinian self-determination as well as recognition of the PLO as "the framework of Palestinian peoplehood.

"It is the agent of their national unity and destiny," he said. "The PLO is the state of mind for the Palestinians. So every Palestinian is a PLO."