- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Blessing or curse?

Several leading American Jewish organizations are angered over remarks made by National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, who called recent violence in the Middle East "both the curse and the blessing of the Israeli-Arab conflict."

Mr. Berger says his critics have "misinterpreted" his remarks and that he has condemned the violence.

Two groups have called for his resignation for the comments in his May 21 speech at Tel Aviv University, which was widely reported in the Israeli media.

Speaking as Palestinians were rioting in the West Bank, Mr. Berger said violence erupts because Israelis and Palestinians live too close to each other and have not resolved their differences. However, he added, the violence helps encourage both sides to continue negotiations.

"It is the consequence of proximity, the physical interconnection between Israelis and Palestinians that in the absence of a fundamental resolution of their conflict is bound to create further friction and further violence," he said.

"Paradoxically, however, this is both the curse and the blessing of the Israeli-Arab conflict. For the tragedy that awaits in the event of non-action also constitutes the greatest incentive for immediate action."

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) have called for Mr. Berger's resignation. B'nai B'rith has written a letter to Mr. Berger expressing its "concern."

The Jewish War Veterans and the National Council for Young Israel, which represents hundreds of synagogues, are also upset over Mr. Berger's remarks and are considering making public comments.

"The Jewish people have suffered too much violence in this century and throughout our history to stand idly by while a government official suggests that violence against Jews can in any way be interpreted as a 'blessing,' " ZOA President Morton A. Klein said in a statement.

"It makes no sense for Berger to say that it is a 'blessing' for Israelis and Arabs to live near each other unless he means that if they live near each other, there will be violence and that violence is partly a 'blessing' because it will be an 'incentive' for negotiations."

JINSA, in a statement yesterday, noted that Mr. Berger spoke on the same day that a 2-year-old Israeli girl was severely burned by a firebomb thrown by Palestinian rioters.

"Mr. Berger can find a blessing in violence? For that alone he should be fired," said JINSA director Tom Newman.

"The tragedy is here and now and not because of inaction on the 'peace front,' but because of deliberate hostile action ginned up by the Palestinian Authority, Israel's ostensible 'peace partner.' "

In a letter to Mr. Berger last week, Mr. Klein called on him to retract his remarks.

"Your statement … could encourage Arab terrorists to believe that the United States condones their violence. That is a wrong and dangerous impression to convey," Mr. Klein wrote.

Mr. Berger responded to Mr. Klein with a defense of his speech. He also said he condemned the violence.

"You have misinterpreted both the intent and words of my speech," Mr. Berger wrote. "As I made clear on several occasions in the speech, violence is unacceptable and is fundamentally at odds with the peace process."

He added, "My argument was that the proximity and interconnectedness between Israelis and Palestinians dictate that a solution to their conflict must be found."

'Urgent priority'

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk yesterday called on Lebanon to establish control over the southern part of the country following Israel's withdrawal from its south Lebanon security zone last week.

Lebanon "should be free of all foreign forces [and] exercise its sovereignty throughout its territory," he told reporters on a tour of Israel near the Lebanese border.

"We think that's an important and urgent priority … and we hope that will happen in the coming days," he said.

Syria maintains 35,000 troops in Lebanon.

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