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>Israel Faxx
>PD Feb. 14, 1997, Vol. 7, Number 26

Netanyahu Meets with Clinton

By David Borgida (VOA-White House)

President Clinton has welcomed visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House to discuss the Israeli-Syrian peace track and the recent agreement on Hebron. The two leaders were restrained in their public comment on their agenda but not in their public praise for each other.

"Today the prime minister and I discussed what Israelis and Palestinians need to do next to strengthen this relationship that is so central to all our hopes for the Middle East. We have an opportunity to build on the new momentum coming out of last month's agreement. It must not be wasted."

Then Netanyahu took his turn: "We have seen him, personally and his staff, make a tremendous contribution for peace. I think their contribution for the Hebron agreement was decisive and it reflects and reaffirms the leadership for peace that President Clinton has shown throughout his term of office. I think we've taken bold steps for peace, it's time that we see such steps from our partners as well. And if we had this mutuality, we will have I think a great future."

Netanyahu is the first of four Middle Eastern leaders to meet with Clinton. In the weeks ahead -- Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein are to visit.

Breakthrough Between Swiss and WJC

By Max Ruston (VOA-New York)

Representatives of Switzerland and the World Jewish Congress appear to have achieved a breakthrough in their dispute over the identification and return of money belonging to victims of the Holocaust. The two sides say their relationship has changed from one of confrontation to cooperation.

The first signs of reconciliation began to appear at a hearing Thursday held by the New York State legislature. The principal speakers at the hearing were the secretary-general of the WJC -- Israel Singer -- and Switzerland's consul general in New York, Alfred Defago.

While officials from the two sides have exchanged bitter remarks during the last few months, Singer and Defago both pointed to recent progress in settling their disputes.

The disputes center on charges that Switzerland helped Nazi German authorities transfer stolen money and gold during World War 2. After the war, Switzerland allegedly kept money belonging to Holocaust victims by failing to investigate claim by survivors and heirs. During the last few weeks, Switzerland has admitted many of the charges are true and started setting up a humanitarian fund to aid elderly Holocaust survivors.

Defago said the two sides are now prepared to cooperate in helping Switzerland deal with its past and meet its moral and financial obligations to Holocaust victims.

"To this end, the Swiss Federal Council has asked me to extend an invitation to Israel Singer, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, to meet with our foreign minister, Flavio Coltti, in Bern to discuss questions surrounding the administration and distribution of the humanitarian fund. The Swiss Jewish community will also be intensely involved in this process. I am fully convinced these talks will be the beginning of a genuine partnership between Switzerland and the Jewish community."

Defago predicted the investigation into Switzerland's past would be extremely painful for the country. But he said it is an essential and healthy step to take.

Singer also responded with a degree of optimism. He outlined the horrors of the Holocaust, saying that 113 members of his family alone were executed in a single day. He indicated that Switzerland's decision to reassess its past is a positive step.

"We think we have turned the corner. We think that this is a new beginning. But, make no mistake, this is not about Switzerland alone. This is about 15 countries and restitution there. This is about Germany being the primary culprit and the Nazis having been the people who created the conditions which gave Swiss banks and other neutral countries the opportunity to steal money after and during the war."

The signs of reconciliation came one day before authorities representing the Swiss government, the WJC and the US government are scheduled to hold a meeting in New York. The meeting will discuss progress made in establishing a humanitarian fund, how that fund will be administered and how to move more quickly in tracking down and returning money left in Switzerland as a result of the Holocaust.

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