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>Israel Faxx
>JN March 4, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 37

Swiss Ready to Probe Financial Ties to Nazi Germany

Eight historians and a lawyer empowered to lift Swiss bank secrecy laws will meet this week to launch a probe of neutral Switzerland's controversial financial ties to Nazi Germany. The five Swiss and four foreign experts will meet in Berne from March 5 to 8 after being picked by the Swiss government to answer a hail of international criticism that Switzerland profited from World War II. The meeting will take place amid a debate among the Swiss about their past and over whether the government should pay into a Holocaust memorial fund.

Arafat and Clinton Focus on Israel Housing Plan

By David Borgida (VOA-White House)

The United States and the Palestinian Authority are forming a joint commission to maintain regular contact on a variety of issues. The announcement came as Yasir Arafat completed a day of talks with President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- talks that focused on the controversial Israeli plan to build new housing in east Jerusalem.

The joint commission would be similar to those the United States has established with other nations, including Russia. State Department spokesman Nick Burns made the announcement following talks between Arafat and Albright. "I think the fact that she and Chairman Arafat have decided to do this together is a fairly strong demonstration of our commitment."

Earlier, Arafat heard some more good news, a reaffirmation from Clinton at the White House that the Israeli plan to build new housing in east Jerusalem undermines the peace process. "I would prefer the decision not have been made, because I don't think it builds confidence, I think it builds mistrust."

But the president and other top US officials refrained from public comment on whether the administration would ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change his decision. Burns insisted the best chance for the US mediation role to succeed is through private diplomacy. Arafat meets today with members of Congress.

German Minister Visits Middle East

By Kyle King (VOA-Bonn)

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel begins a trip to the Middle East today, in what analysts call another sign of Germany's increasing role in international affairs. The foreign minister's first stop will be Jordan. In addition to Middle East peace, his talks with King Hussein and other officials are expected to focus on water rights, a key issue in relations between Israel and Jordan.

Kinkel, who last visited the region one year ago, travels to Gaza Thursday for talks with Yasir Arafat. Friday, Kinkel is expected in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli President Ezar Weizman and Foreign Minister David Levy.

German Foreign Ministry officials say Kinkel will use his trip to stress Germany's commitment to the Middle East peace process.

Despite the difficult history between Germany and Israel, officials say Germany has become Israel's second most important foreign partner after the United States.

Officials say they do not want their efforts in the region be in competition with other influential players such as the United States. However, most analysts agree, Germany's influence in the region, and around the world has grown since unification in 1990.

Germany is the largest European Union aid donor to the region. It says its task now is to encourage compromise and help strengthen the foundations of peace.

Palestinians Strike as Arafat Visits Washington

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel continued to implement its policy on Jerusalem Monday, as Palestinians held a general strike to protest the policy, and the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, met with President Clinton to seek his support in getting it changed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, where the government plans infrastructure improvements designed to placate Palestinian anger over plans for a new Jewish neighborhood not far away.

Palestinians reject the Israeli effort, and say Israel should not be doing anything in east Jerusalem until its future is determined in the next round of peace talks.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. But Israel says it will never give up any of the city, which Israeli law defines as including many Palestinian villages and a considerable amount of undeveloped land, including the hill slated for the new Jewish neighborhood approved last week.

Monday's strike was called by the elected Palestinian council and affected schools, government offices and public transportation, as well as stores. It was generally effective throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, in contrast to some other strike calls which have often been virtually ignored.

But there were indications in some areas that the Palestinian police enforced the strike, much as militant groups did during the intifada.

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