Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin last night said the explusion of Israel's military negotiating committee from Egypt may be a hardline political expression by President Anwar Sadat but that he did not view it as a calamitous event in the Middle East peace process.
He gave the same assessment of Egypt's rebuff of Israeli proposals for another meeting between Begin and Sadat.
"It is better that we should be those who are insulted than those who insult," Begin said in an Israeli television interview a few hours after learning of Cairo's decision to expel Israeli's military committee.
In an obvious attempt to minimize the importance of the explusion, Begin said the negotiating committee has had almost no function other than to "pass cables" from Jerusalem to Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials.
Begin said the fact that the Israeli delegation had remained so long in Egypt was a sign of progress in itself. "Do you think it is a little thing that an Israeli delegation was set up in Egypt? After all, two years ago - a year ago - it was like a dream," the prime minister said.
But Begin said he was not unmindful of the veiled threat from Cairo in recent days that there could be another war if Israeli does not soften its negotiating position.
"Of course, we have to be careful. We shall take all the necessary precautions, but I don't think there is danger of war," he said.
"We don't want polemics, we want negotiations," he added.
Asserting that Sadat wants peace only by imposing unacceptable conditions upon Israel, Begin said "his conditions mean the distruption of Israel." Begin said this means complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders.
Meanwhile, Begin's government yesterday defeated by a two-to-one margin a vote of no confidence brought in the Knesset by Labor Alignment opponents of Israel's Middle East peace policy.
Begin's Likud coalition withstood the attempt to bring down the government by the same margin that the Knesset rejected on Monday what, in effect, was a vote of no confidence in the government's foreign policy. The vote yesterday was 70 to 35.
Most of the debate on yesterday's motion occurred Monday in a session during which Begin engaged individual members in shouted arguments from the floor and accused the Labor Party of a long history "character assassination."
In considerably more moderate tones, former foreign minister Abba Eban yesterday criticized the Begin government's "clumsy" approach to foreign policy, and said it had made a series of tactical errors that have reduced the prospects of a peace agreement with Sadat.
Eban cited Begin's handling of Sadat's proposal that Israel, as a gesture of good will, return the northern Sinai town of El Arish to the Egyptians so that Egypt could then host the next round of peace negotiations there.
In rejecting Sadat's request, Begin said, "Nobody gets anything for nothing," and demanded that Egypt provide a quid pro quo for El Arish.
"It was a rather curt and not very polite rejection of his (Sadat's) suggestion for a gesture.When you speak about reciprocal gestures, it has no meaning. The idea of a gesture is that you do something that will invest in good will," Eban said in an interview on Radio Israel after the debate.