WASHINGTON (AP) _ A delegation of American Jews who met with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat in Tunis said Friday that Arafat is eager to talk to U.S. as well as Israeli Jews to seek a settlement of the conflict in the Middle East.

''Everybody spoke so warmly about their meetings with Israeli Jews,'' said delegation member Hilda Silverman of Philadelphia, who represented the New Jewish Agenda during the week-long meetings that began May 30. ''They talked with delight about the upcoming meeting in Budapest (with some Israelis).''

''We were impressed with the way the PLO itself was talking to Israelis,'' said Mary Appelman of the America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. ''That's very important to them.''

Ms. Silverman, Ms. Appelman and Dr. Jerome Segal of the Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace met with various PLO officials as well as a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a more radical group that recently reunited with other Palestinian organizations under the PLO umbrella.

The discussions occurred amid the backdrop of a move in Congress to shut down the PLO office in the United States and an Israeli anti-terrorism law that makes it a crime for Israelis to meet with the PLO. Four Israelis who met with PLO members in Romania last year currently are on trial in Israel.

Segal, criticizing both attempts at curtailing meetings with the PLO, said at a news conference, ''There's a very deep symbolic issue here. It goes beyond the question of dialogue.... There's a history of denial of their existence,'' and refusals to talk to them or even to allow them to have an office where they could be visible simply aggravates that.

They met with Arafat almost immediately after arriving, spending 1 1/2 to 2 hours with him even as a plane waited to take him elsewhere, they said.

''I spoke mostly in that meeting on Jewish fears,'' Ms. Silverman said. ''I've heard that in past meetings, he hasn't wanted to listen to that. But he couldn't have been more responsive.... When I spoke to him of the visit of (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat to Jerusalem and told him that was the high point of the lives of many Jews in Israel as well as the United States, I had expected him to dismiss it, but he was nodding and smiling.''

The meeting in an office in a home at PLO headquarters was conducted with ''no visible security at all,'' she said with surprise, noting the many attempts that have been made on Arafat's life.

Despite the warmth of their reception, the three indicated that the PLO has not abandoned its cause or its willingness to resort to violence if that is deemed necessary.

Ms. Silverman said she felt the PLO position was summed up best by Imad Shakour, Arafat's personal adviser on Israeli affairs, who said, ''As long as Israel occupies (Palestine), we'll step up resistance. We're all radical if nobody listens. We're moderate if we achieve something.''

The meeting with Bassam Abu Sharif, one of the PFLP's top officials, also was cordial but he was less understanding of Jewish fears, she said.

''His answer was, 'It's sort of like if someone is cutting someone on the neck and saying I'm afraid of you,''' she recalled.

''I sensed more personal anger in him than I found in Arafat,'' she said, noting that he was badly scarred from a letter bomb sent by Israelis.

The group did not discuss details that might come up in negotiations, and the PLO officials made no attempt to deliver a specific message through the delegation, the three said.

However, Segal said the group specifically asked if armed conflict with Israel would end if negotiations resulted in an independent Palestinian state. ''To that we got a very clear, 'Yes.'''

''They feel they've gone so far already ...,'' Ms. Silverman said. ''They need to hear more from the United States and Israel before they can say more.''