U.S. officials, nervously eyeing an Israeli cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday, said yesterday that the United States was intensifying its efforts to work out a solution for the Beirut crisis that would forestall an Israeli move to occupy the city.
The officials, who declined to be identified, described the impending cabinet meeting in Jerusalem as "a potential break point" that might see Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government decide it will no longer wait for negotiations to achieve Israel's demand that Palestinian forces surrender their arms and leave Lebanon.
Reports from Beirut yesterday indicated faltering efforts by President Reagan's special envoy, Philip C. Habib, to negotiate between the Palestians and various Lebanese factions.
U.S. officials, while stressing that they could not predict what might happen beyond Sunday, also warned that "time is running out" on hopes of resolving the situation without further bloodshed.
However, the officials continued, a lot is likely to depend on the ideas that the United States can inject into the talks and the pressures it can exert on both sides.
"There is a great deal of movement," one official said, but he was unable to predict its effect.
At stake is the cease-fire that has been in effect since last week when Israel, in the wake of Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s resignation as secretary of state, bowed to American entreaties and halted its shelling of Palestinian positions in Beirut.
At a news conference Wednesday night, Reagan endorsed Israel's demand that all the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut withdraw from Lebanon.
But the president also said the United States had given "no green light whatsoever" for Israel to attack Palestinian enclaves in West Beirut.
The U.S. approach, in effect, has been to hope that the Israeli offensive will break the PLO's power in Lebanon, thereby setting the stage for a new, stable political order there and possibly opening up a new effort to achieve a wider Mideast peace.
But the United States also wants this goal to be accomplished without further widespread killing and destruction, and the administration's problem now is to convince Israel to wait for a negotiated settlement.