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>Israel Faxx
>JN Jan. 28. 1997, Vol. 5, Number 18

Arafat Promises No Independence; Yet

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat says he has no plans to declare Palestinian statehood until the next phase of talks with Israel is completed, which is supposed to be in mid-1999. According to the Israeli Newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Arafat made the promise Sunday in a meeting with retired Israeli army officers in Gaza.

Arafat is quoted as saying he does not intend to declare Palestinian statehood until the next phase of peace talks is completed, and that he believes for now implementing the interim agreement should be the main focus, not potentially divisive unilateral declarations.

Previous comments by Arafat and other Palestinian officials indicating a statehood declaration could come soon have angered Israeli officials. Such comments have generally come in times of trouble in the peace talks.

Israeli officials have said a unilateral Palestinian declaration could end the peace process. But now Arafat has said such a move is not in his plans.

Sharansky Visits Russia

By Elizabeth Arrott (VOA-Moscow)

One of the most prominent Soviet dissidents of the Cold War era has returned to Russia, 11 years after he was forced to leave. Natan Sharansky travelled through Moscow Monday in a convoy of embassy cars -- a dramatically different means of transport than the prison van that last took him out of the capital.

The Israeli trade and industry minister returned to Moscow to help build economic links. But the visit is overshadowed by emotional ties.

Sharansky spent nine years in Soviet prisons and labor camps for campaigning for the right of Jews to emigrate to Israel. He was formally accused of spying for the United States and his case was taken up by human rights advocates worldwide.

After his release on a Berlin bridge in 1986, Sharansky settled in Israel where he founded a political party representing Soviet immigrants.

Leading a delegation of Israeli businessmen to Moscow, the former dissident said he was returning to a new country which enjoys freedom, a country with which he could work.

Swiss Ambassador to U.S. Resigns

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-State Department)

Switzerland's ambassador to the United States has resigned after publication of a confidential document in which he called for a public relations campaign against Jewish groups and other critics of Swiss policy.

Ambassador Carlo Jagmetti resigned six months early after his call for a war against Jewish and other critics of Switzerland's treatment of bank accounts held by victims of the Nazi Holocaust became public.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns has joined criticism of Jagmetti's comments. "If it's true that the Swiss ambassador made these remarks, it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about the commitment the United States government has to its own citizens and to the search for justice for people who had their human rights fundamentally violated during the Second World War. It's very troubling."

The spokesman says the State Department welcomes Switzerland's promise to establish a compensation fund for Holocaust victims as an important first step in dealing with the past.

French Museums Hold Jewish Works of Art

By Julian Nundy (VOA-Paris)

A French newspaper says a secret government report shows French museums are holding nearly 2,000 works of art confiscated from Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War 2.

The French daily "Le Monde" says a special French court which looks into misuse of public funds conducted an investigation into the whereabouts of art stolen from Jews during the Nazi occupation of France.

The newspaper said it obtained a copy of a secret report showing French state museums, including the Louvre in Paris, have more than 1,900 confiscated works of art by such artists as Renoir, Monet and Gauguin.

There was no official confirmation of Le Monde's report, but it came just as French Prime Minister Alain Juppe said he will soon create a commission to list property stolen from Jews during the war and seek ways of compensating them or their families. Only a tiny fraction of the 76,000 Jews deported from France to Nazi death camps ever returned.

The new commission looking into Jewish property will have to study more than 5,000 boxes of documents kept secret since the war. Simone Veil, another former government minister and herself one of the few French survivors of the death camps, told a French radio station her only question was to ask why it had taken more than 50 years to deal with the problem?

Last week, a Paris court ordered former government minister, Maurice Papon, to stand trial on a charge of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the deportation of Jews from the Bordeaux region. He will be the last French citizen to face trial for crimes committed during the war.

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