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NEWS ANALYSIS When Albright meets Netanyahu, Jewish roots could be new topic

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (JTA) — When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Madeleine Albright for the first time as secretary of state, they will have something besides Middle East peace to talk about — their Jewish roots. America”s top diplomat has termed “fairly compelling”” newly uncovered information that at least three of her grandparents were Jewish. These grandparents, along with more than a dozen other relatives, died at the hands of the Nazis. Albright”s parents never told her of their Jewish roots and raised her as a Roman Catholic, she has said. The revelations, prompted by extensive research in Europe by The Washington Post, come only a week before Netanyahu is set to kick off a procession of visits by Middle East leaders hosted by Albright and President Clinton. In meetings with Clinton, talks are expected to focus on solidifying the gains of the recent Israeli-Palestinian Hebron agreement as well as on trying to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks. But another focus of the visit is to begin working relations between Netanyahu”s government and the new secretary of state. News of Albright”s Jewish roots stunned many this week — most of all Albright herself. When she was first appointed, many people, especially in the Arab world, were certain she was Jewish. But Albright”s office repeatedly confirmed that she was not. According to information published in the Post that was given to Albright only last week, her paternal grandparents, Arnost and Olga Korbel, were Jews who died at Auschwitz. Albright”s maternal grandmother, Anna Spieglova, was also killed by the Nazis. Other relatives died at Terezin, a holding camp for Czech Jews before being sent to Auschwitz. “Obviously it is a very personal matter for my family and brother and sister and my children,”” Albright told the Post. “The only thing I have to go by is what my mother and father told me, how I was brought up,”” the paper quoted her as saying. Albright”s father died in 1977. Her mother died in 1989. Albright gave the Post a copy of an 11-page unfinished family history written by her mother. The handwritten manuscript, written in 1977 after Albright”s father”s death, makes no reference to Judaism or relatives who died in the Holocaust. The Post quoted Mandula Korbel as writing, “With the help of some good friends and lots of luck and a little bribery”” the family “managed to get the necessary Gestapo permission to leave the country.”” Albright”s family fled Czechoslovakia in March 1939, days after Nazi forces occupied the country. Her father, a diplomat, took the family to London, where they stayed until after the war. The family returned, but again fled in 1948 after a Communist coup, and settled in the United States. Albright”s first cousin, Dagmar Simova, who lives in what is now the Czech Republic, told the Post that Albright”s parents did not tell her about the fate of her relatives because she was only 8 years old at the end of the war. A copy of Albright”s father”s birth certificate lists Josef Korbel as “Jewish,”” according to the Post. In addition, names of relatives reportedly appear on the list of 77,000 Czech Holocaust victims inscribed on the wall of the Pinkas synagogue in Prague. The revelations about Albright”s Jewish roots are expected to have little direct impact on relations between Washington and Jerusalem. Pro-Israel activists — as well as Arab critics — have long considered her a strong supporter of the Jewish state. A State Department official said the new revelations had “nothing to do with her job.”” “This will have no effect on her performance as secretary of state,”” he said. When Albright told Clinton about the information this week, “the president said it was a fascinating story and encouraged Madeleine to find out more,”” White House spokesman Mike McCurry reportedly said. But the information could liven up next week”s meeting between Netanyahu and Albright. Netanyahu and Albright have more than Jewish roots in common. Both served as their country”s ambassador to the United Nations. Although Albright has devoted much of her work to other areas of the world, the Middle East is likely to occupy much of her time, analysts say, as the region continues to play a big role on the Clinton administration”s foreign policy agenda. “President Clinton has his eye on the history books,”” said a White House official involved in setting up the meetings. “He wants history to record him as the president who presided over Middle East peace.””
Still, U.S. officials do not expect any major breakthroughs during Netanyahu”s one-week visit to the United States, which begins Feb 12. He has also scheduled meetings with other top U.S. officials and lawmakers as well as with American Jews. Clinton wants to “build on the momentum created by the accord on Hebron,”” U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross said. The visit “will be marked by a business is back to normal attitude,”” said Joel Singer, an attorney in Washington who served as a chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians. “I expect there will be an attempt made by the U.S. administration to prove that relations between the U.S. and Israel are as good as they have ever been.”” The visit, Netanyahu”s fourth since becoming prime minister, marks the first time he will come to the White House during a period of relative calm. His first visit came in July, shortly after his electoral victory in May, a race in which Clinton had openly backed his electoral opponent. The second came in early September as talks stalled in the region. The third visit was for an emergency summit Clinton had called after Palestinian police and Israeli forces exchanged fire in the wake of tunnel dispute in Jerusalem. Netanyahu”s visit next week is being seen by many as the first victory lap for Middle East leaders, now that the peace process appears back on track. Netanyahu will be followed by Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan”s King Hussein. One major focus of the meetings will be to try to hammer out an agreement that would enable Syria and Israel to resume their long- stalled peace talks. Damascus has refused to reopen talks, on hold since last spring, until Netanyahu agrees to informal assurances given by the previous government. Syria believes that it had a deal that Israel would withdraw from the entire Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Netanyahu is also expected to bring up the fate of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence. Clinton has refused to pardon Pollard or commute his sentence to time served. Pollard”s wife, Esther, is urging Netanyahu to appeal to Clinton on humanitarian grounds to release her husband. According to a letter Esther Pollard sent to Netanyahu, Pollard is suffering from a serious sinus condition that requires surgery. Pollard claims that prison officials have refused treatment at a hospital because of security concerns. Pollard remains in solitary confinement at a maximum security federal prison.