President Arnold Koller told Parliament that the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity -- to be set up in the coming year -- would help "victims of poverty and catastrophes, of genocide and other severe breaches of human rights such as, of course, victims of the Holocaust."
The fund, based on proceeds from Switzerland's 26,000-ton gold reserves, eventually could produce several hundred million dollars a year, Koller said. Money would be divided among needy recipients both inside and outside Switzerland.
Where money will come from
Swiss National Bank (SNB) Chairman Hans Meyer said the new plan -- which would require amending Switzerland's constitution -- entailed selling gold over a 10-year period. But he insisted such sales would not have to disrupt the gold market and would not undermine the stability of the Swiss currency.
No taxpayer money would be used for the solidarity fund. Swiss conservatives have attacked any such move as tantamount to an admission of guilty behavior during the war.
The proposed fund would be in addition to a $67 million humanitarian fund set up last month by Switzerland's main commercial banks, stung by allegations they were unsympathetic in handling unclaimed assets of Holocaust victims' families.
"This is first and foremost a victory for the moral position for which we have fought all along the way," said Avraham Burg, the head of the Jewish Agency, who had initiated the inquiry into Holocaust victims' dormant Swiss bank accounts.
In Jerusalem, a spokesman for the Israeli government welcomed the proposal.
"Any action taken by the Swiss government in the direction of dealing with these issues in order to try and correct injustices of the past is certainly welcome," said Moshe Fogel, head of the government press office.
However, Jonathan Lemberger, the head of the Amcha group that helps Holocaust survivors in Israel, said it was wrong of Switzerland to lump Nazi victims in with other humanitarian causes.
"The money should certainly come first to Holocaust survivors," Lemberger said.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel andReuters contributed to this report.