Vermont Public Radio Comment for Thursday May 15th, 2014


 INTRO: After another Israeli-Palestinian peace process has ended in failure, prospects for a peace agreement seem far- distant. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore offers his assessment.


TEXT:  As I reflect on the nearly fifty years I have reported on the Arab-Israeli conflict, one thing becomes clear - the Middle East has become a very different place. Once, most Israelis and their political leaders yearned to be accepted by the Arabs as a legitimate part of the Middle East. And most Palestinians dreamed of their own independent state. The high water mark of that era was the historic Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty in 1979, brokered by President Jimmy Carter. 


Many Americans keep looking for a continuum of that process to get us to a final agreement. The problem is that so much has changed in the region, that such expectations are no longer realistic.


Today, I would like to address one such significant change. It is not the only reason a Middle East peace is stymied. But it’s an important one.


One of the consequences of the end of the Cold War, was that Soviet President Mikael Gorbachev threw open the doors for Soviet citizens who wished to leave. Among those who did so in large numbers were Soviet Jews- roughly one million of whom went to Israel between 1989 and 2006. They joined 165 thousand Soviet Jews who had moved there in the seventies and eighties. This was a huge number of new citizens to absorb, given that in 1990 Israel’s population was less than five million.


For the new Russian immigrants assimilation was a real struggle. Housing was a challenge.  As most did not speak Hebrew -  even today only about half do -  finding jobs was difficult. This problem was compounded when Russian education degrees were often not recognized in the Israeli private sector.


So, no surprise- the Russians tended to stay together. They created their own neighborhoods. Seven Russian language newspapers emerged. Eventually, there was a Russian-Israeli television network. But most significantly, the Russians formed their own political parties which became the powerful new voice in Israeli politics – one that supports a very hardline policy toward the Arabs, be they Palestinian or Israeli.


The largest Russian party now is Yisrael Beiteinu- which means “Israel is Our Home.” It was founded by Avigdor Lieberman, a Soviet Jew who emigrated in the 1970s. In 2009 his party won 15 seats in the Israeli Knesset, and its support made Benjamin Netanyahu Prime Minister. In last year's election, Lieberman’s Russian Party and Netanyahu’s Likud ran on a joint slate and won enough seats to become the ruling coalition. Lieberman is the foreign minister, his party has three other important cabinet posts, and by the way, Vladimir Putin is his friend.


Lieberman’s idea of a two state solution for the Israeli Palestinian dispute is for Israel to keep its settlements on the West Bank and give to the Palestinians those parts of Israel now home to Israeli Arabs- effectively ridding Israel of much of its Arab population.


This is not remotely a formula for peace with the Palestinians- nor quite evidently, is it meant to be.




Vermont Public Radio Comment for Thursday May 1st, 2014


INTRO: In polls this week. President Barack Obama’s rating for his handling of the current Ukrainian crisis is down to 34 percent. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore suggests, that may be because many Americans believe Obama’s critics that he is weak.


TEXT: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. With this is mind, I recently wrote about a new book on the subject by British military historian Max Hastings titled Catastrophe: 1914. Who bears the greatest blame for starting the war, remains in dispute. Hastings believes it was Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. But leaders in Germany, Russia, Serbia, France and Britain all share responsibility. Where there does seem to be a historical consensus is that in the summer of 1914, all the parties were trying to show they were not weak.


In her 1962 Pulitzer Prize winning best seller, “The Guns of August,” American historian Barbara Tuchman made this point: mistakes, misunderstandings and miscommunication can unleash an unpredictable chain of events, causing governments to go to war with little understanding of the consequences.


Author Michael Dobbs, in “One Minute to Midnight”, his definitive history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, tells us that even as President John Kennedy was negotiating with the Russians - and with his own hawkish generals and advisors- the The Guns of August tragedy was very much on his mind.

“One of Kennedy’s favorite passages” writes Dobbs, “was a scene in which two German statesmen are analyzing the reasons for the most destructive confrontation - until that time. ‘How did it all happen?’ the younger man wanted to know.” The older man responds, “Ah, if only one knew.”


Dobbs explains, “Whatever else he did as president of the United States, Kennedy was determined to avoid an outcome in which one survivor of nuclear war asks, ‘how did this all happen?’ and receives the incredible reply, ‘Ah if only one knew.’”


Fortunately for the world, Kennedy succeeded. But it was very close. At key points during the crisis, had it not been for Kennedy’s determination not to provoke a nuclear war, many of us would not be here today.


I am not implying that the current problem with Russia over Ukraine is of the same magnitude as World War I or the Cuban Missile Crisis. What I am suggesting is that trying to prove how tough you are, is also not the solution to the Ukrainian problem. 


Obama’s critics insist that he is feckless and that by being so averse to the use of force, he invites challenges from the likes of Russian President Putin. But what is it the critics want him to do? Do not use American troops they say –but give the Ukrainians more weapons so they can fight the Russians.



Yet, we know Ukraine has a sadly depleted military with perhaps fewer than 10,000 troops adequately trained to fight. The Russians already have 40,000 well equipped forces right on the Ukrainian border and another 750 thousand in reserve.


Sending arms to Ukraine won’t make America seem tougher.

It will just result in more bloodshed, and will have no bearing on the outcome. Stronger sanctions by both America and Europe - still just might.

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