U.S. special Middle East envoy Philip C. Habib met here tonight with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and other top officials amid signs of Israeli irritation at the pace of his peace-making effort.
Following a two-hour and 20- minute meeting, neither Habib nor Begin would disclose the content of their discussions or say what they expected next.
Habib's only words were that he had "a very good meeting" and that he would "of course" continue his mission to find a peaceful solution to the impasse over the guerrillas withdrawal from Beirut.
Begin's only comment as he came out of his office was, "Good night, gentlemen. Good night."
After an earlier meeting between Habib and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, an Israeli official said the American envoy had presented "his thoughts and plans" on how to resolve the deadlock, adding: "His opinion is his mission has a chance of being fulfilled successfully."
The official gave no indication at all that Israel agreed with this assessment. Earlier he told reporters that the government's view of Habib's mission was that there was "no progress."
The only other light shed on the Israeli attitude toward the present crisis came from visiting Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), who saw Begin earlier in the day.
Tsongas said in an interview afterward that Begin had told him that he would inform Habib that Israel would still give him more time, but the senator added that on the basis of talks with various Israeli officials he had gotten "a sense of resignation to the military option."
He also said Begin had given the impression that the United States was not initially opposed to Israel's resort to its new policy of "static fire" against Palestinian targets in West Beirut but that recently this had changed.
"He made the statement that two weeks ago we were telling a different story," Tsongas said after seeing Begin. "I for one would like to know what that story was and what kind of signals two weeks ago we were sending."
In Washington, State Department sources denied there had been any shift in U.S. attitudes similar to those described by Begin. The sources said the U.S. position consistently has been that the cease-fire should be maintained, that all parties should strive to avoid needless casualties and that any outbreaks of fighting are potentially harmful to Habib's efforts.
The sources did concede that, in recent days as Israeli efforts to put pressure on the PLO in West Beirut have increased, the United States has become more forceful in conveying its attitude to the Israelis.
As the negotiations drag on with no breakthrough in sight, Israeli officials have been showing their irritation with Habib, first privately and then by allowing details of some of their exchanges with him to leak.
One incident reported here was said to involve Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who reportedly spoke very bluntly to Habib during a trip to East Beirut July 19.
Sharon's behavior, according to accounts of the incident, was sufficiently offensive to provoke a formal, oral U.S. protest.
It was in that meeting that Sharon told Habib that Israel was opposed to any interim solution or separation of forces as a solution to the withdrawal of Palestinian guerrillas from Beirut and all of Lebanon.
He was apparently reacting to a Palestinian proposal that the guerrillas first withdraw to eastern or northern Lebanon until a new haven for them could be found in another country. This plan was brought to Washington by the Saudi and Syrian foreign ministers who discussed it with President Reagan last week.
Two days later, Habib left after six weeks of frustrating negotiations in Beirut with Lebanese, and indirectly, Palestinian leaders on what the State Department called a "follow-up mission" to explore the "ideas and understandings" raised in Reagan's meeting with the two Arabs.
The same day, Israel once again began using its Air Force both against Palestinian targets in West Beirut and Syrian positions in eastern Lebanon.
Correspondent Edward Walsh added the following:
The members of a U.S. congressional delegation who met with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in West Beirut said in Jerusalem tonight that Arafat made contradictory statements during the meeting about the PLO's willingness to accept Israel's right to exist.
Rep. Paul N. McCloskey (R-Calif.) said the PLO chief said "not once but I believe three times that he recognizes" the United Nations Security Council resolutions that call for Israel to return territory it captured during the 1967 war in return for recognition of its right to exist behind secure borders.
But Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), chairman of the delegation, said, and McCloskey agreed, that at another point Arafat said he did not accept Resolution 242, the key resolution, because it makes no mention of Palestine or Palestinians.