Irked Swiss Mull whether Netanyahu Still Welcome

Irked Swiss Mull whether Netanyahu Still Welcome

ZURICH, Sept 21 ’98, (Reuters)- Irked Swiss officials werestill mulling on Monday whether Israel’s prime minister was welcometo attend a business seminar after he congratulated the WorldJewish Congress for helping retrieve Holocaust victims’ wealth.

In a letter to WJC President Edgar Bonfman that made its wayinto the Swiss press, Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Bronfman forhis efforts to win compensation for Holocaust victims who allegedSwiss banks withheld their wealth after World War Two.

This angered Swiss officials who say Netanyahu had distancedhimself from Bronfman’s aggressive efforts to wring compensationfrom Switzerland and its big commercial banks when Swiss PresidentFlavio Cotti visited Israel in May.

Big Swiss banks agreed last month to pay $1.25 billion to settlethe allegations that they stonewalled victims.

The foreign ministry in Berne said it was still examining nowwhether Netanyahu was welcome to attend a high-level economicseminar set for late November that was designed to improve bilateralbusiness ties.

“The question we are dealing with is the coming of theprime minister in this context. We are still evaluating the questions,”ministry spokeswoman Yasmine Chatila said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Eytan Bentsur spokeby telephone with the Swiss ambassador to Israel on Friday tooffer reassurances, she said.

“Now there might be more explanations to come. These aregoing to be evaluated and a decision will be taken later,”she said, declining to say what Berne was still waiting to hearor how long it might take to decide on the case.

A diplomatic source in Jerusalem confirmed a confidential letterwas sent to Bronfman within the past month.

“This letter sparked great anger in Switzerland becauseBronfman is not so popular there. They took it as an insult tothe country and President Cotti,” the source said.

The letter did not mention Switzerland, he said, adding thatBentsur had sought to clarify that the missive was not meant toharm Switzerland and that relations between the two countrieswere important to Israel and Netanyahu.

Bilateral relations, normally good, suffered this year whenSwitzerland arrested a man it said was a Mossad spy during a botchedeavesdropping mission in Berne. Israel apologised for the incident,allowing Cotti’s trip to Israel to proceed.