French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson today labeled as "absurd" European efforts to supplant the Camp David peace process with an alternative Middle East peace initiative and pledged that the current French government would not be a party to such a move.
Franco-Israeli relations, strained since the 1973 Middle East war, appeared to thaw noticeably as Cheysson pledged France's support to continued involvement in the peace process by Egypt and the United States.
Israeli officials interpreted Cheysson's remarks as a watershed not only in French-Israeli relations, but in the European Community's efforts to substitute a new peace initiative for Camp David.
Cheysson said the European Community's Venice declaration of June 1980 had taken on anti-Camp David characteristics and, therefore, was "wrong and absurd." The Venice declaration called for Palestinian self-determination and the inclusion of the Palestine Liberation Organization in peace negotiations.
"It is wrong because Camp David is progress," Cheysson said in an interview on Israeli Radio during his two-day visit. "Two countries which were at war decided they felt they had a right to enter into peace. Absurd because who can think that there can be peace without Egypt, and who can think that the Americans have no role to play.
"And to speak against Camp David meant, let's forget about Egypt. The Americans have nothing to do. That's a mistake. That, we certainly did not like in the Venice declaration. Therefore, to take a stand against Camp David was certainly a mistake, and that we certainly did not like in the Venice declaration," Cheysson said.
Cheysson was the first French foreign minister to visit Israel since 1977.
The French foreign minister's remarks contrasted sharply with statements made by France, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands when the four Common Market nations agreed to participate in a multinational peace-keeping force in the Sinai Peninsula when Israel withdraws next April 25. Those declarations linked participation in the force to the Venice document and specifically referred to the need for Palestinian self-determination in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport when Cheysson left tonight, Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the visit had opened a "new era of relations between Israel and France."
Cheysson and Shamir said that differences remain between France and Israel, particularly on a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Most of Cheysson's lengthy meetings with Israelis were taken up by discussions on bilateral relations, and they decided to revive a joint economic committee that has been inactive for 10 years.
But Cheysson's statements on the European peace initiative that led to what one Israeli Foreign Ministry official called a "most successful visit."
Cheysson repeatedly stressed during the visit that the Europeans should end their peace initiative and leave the problems to the countries of the Middle East.
"We do not object to further declarations. We do not object to statements of principle. We do not object to common positions being taken by the ten" Common Market nations, Cheysson told reporters tonight.
He added, "What we say is that initiatives planned should be proposed and discussed between those directly concerned and not by countries like the European countries, which have an interest but no direct involvement in the settlement."