Prime Minister Bettino Craxi won a vote of confidence in Parliament today despite having outraged some deputies with an assertion defending the Palestine Liberation Organization's right to engage in an armed struggle against Israel.

Craxi, winding up a three-day parliamentary debate on his five-party coalition government's handling of foreign policy, stunned Parliament with a defense of the PLO's right to fight, even as he said his government remained opposed to such warfare because it was counterproductive.

"I oppose the PLO's recourse to an armed struggle not because I believe they do not have a right to engage in it ," Craxi said to protests by pro-Israeli deputies, "but because I think the armed struggle cannot bring any solution" to the Palestinian problem.

Overriding angry interruptions from the floor, Craxi said that Italy's own national unity had been born of such an armed struggle and that even the United Nations Charter does not oppose the right "of a nationalist movement to resort to armed struggle to defend its national cause."

The comments were made as Craxi sought to underline once again why Italy, as a Mediterranean nation with important commercial, political and historical ties to the Arab world, has developed an activist Middle East policy that defends the role of the PLO in any future Middle East peace settlement.

Craxi's statement came as a surprise because today's vote of confidence was made necessary after the small but influential Republican Party brought down the government last month over its handling of the Achille Lauro hijacking and its aftermath.

The Republican leader, Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini, whose party is strongly pro-Israel, pulled his party out of the government after Craxi allowed Mohammed Abbas, the Palestinian leader the United States contends masterminded the hijacking, to leave Italy.

Spadolini agreed to rejoin the government last week after Craxi agreed on a modified coalition foreign policy statement that insisted that the PLO could only have a role in a Middle East peace if it pursued a peacefully negotiated settlement.

Craxi aides insisted that the prime minister's surprisingly strong statement tonight in no way violated the agreement that brought the Republicans back into the coalition.

These aides pointed out that Craxi specifically opposed the PLO's recourse to violence, even though he defended its historic right to do so, as Italy and many other states and national movements have. In the end, even Spadolini's Republicans seemed to agree. After Craxi's speech, they joined his Socialists and the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals in voting for the government, 347 to238.