Thanks to the wave of Russian immigration in the last 15 years, Israel has a large and diverse and Russian-language press. I have never used Russian-Israeli newspapers as a source for posts on this blog, simply because it's easier to rely on the handy English translations that the major Hebrew-language dailies publish online. But I thought I would have a go at sticking my toe in the water and reading a few things from the Russian perspective.
Apart from knowing that Russian-Israeli newspapers are generally regarded as being politically oriented to the right of center - though probably not as far right as the infamous Novosti article advocating the castration of Israeli Arabs would suggest - and that Israel's newspapers in general are combative and irreverent towards Israeli politicians in a way that would be quite unfamiliar to readers of the U.S. mainstream press, I'm not really sure what to expect. So until I get a feel for what I'm reading, I intend to translate and post without comment articles chosen for no better reason than they seem interesting to me.
The first translation is an editorial - Good Intentions (Благими намерениями) - published in Novosti, Israel's largest Russian-language paper, on 11 November 2004. I know that's a bit old, but I thought it might be interesting to see how Novosti views propects for the immediate post-Arafat era.
Good Intentions by Alexander Likhtikman
The symbolism of Arafat’s death, falling nearly to the day on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, goes well beyond the calendar date. The explosions that ripped through Israel in the six months following the assassination made most Israelis all too aware that there had been a change of leadership. That first victory for the anti-Oslo coalition turned out to be the beginning of the end for the peace process. Many months – years, in fact – had been required for the Oslo Accords to become a fixed part of the government’s plan, but a succession of early elections, one after another, undermined its effect. Each time the people got used to a new "Rabin" sitting in the Premier’s seat, the administration would change again. The current Prime Minister has held power longer than the all the others, but is now in the same position as his predecessor, Barak, with no coalition and no established budget in his second term.
Now let’s look at the other side.
The one thing that lasted throughout the peace process was the undisputed authority of Yasir Arafat over the PA. The Rais  inspired opponents of the Oslo process, convinced them that his rhetoric was real, and simplified their world view. All Israeli leaders since Rabin were forced to deal with Arafat the “murderer”, “terrorist”, and “anti-Semite”. Bibi called him a friend and openly shook his hand. Barak negotiated with him at Camp David. Sharon maintained contact through intermediaries, but used an active universal hatred of Arafat for his own purposes. He borrowed the opposition’s rhetoric and, like the underground radio station Arutz-7, hung on him the label “terrorist leader”. Personalizing Arafat’s guilt became the most important element of state propaganda both within the country and abroad. Overseas we argued there was no partner for peace, and at home we argued that we needed emergency economic programs and exhorbitant military expenditures. In the end, Arafat was never killed, never brought to trial, and actually continued to serve as a conduit to finance terrorist groups. As soon as he was gone, Sharon “unfroze” 2 billion shekels, which had been kept back since Barak was in charge, and everything began to change.
Whether Arafat was really an impediment, or whether that was a sham can be judged by the way things develop in the upcoming months. If we are looking for a victory (i.e. a reduction in terrorism) through military means, we will have to foster chaos – granting autonomy to three or four different [Palestinian] enclaves, playing on their rivalries and ambitions, and trying to come to an agreement with each of their respective leaders. If the government’s goal is the eventual creation of a single Palestinian government, we will help the strongest of them gain power, promising them hundreds of millions of shekels every month and working with them to destroy the other contenders.
But anyone who knows the Israeli authorities has to be prepared for a second option - and this is where the danger in the demonization of Arafat becomes apparent. Those who, like Benny Begin, looked beyond the received wisdom on Arafat and his inner circle – studied what he said and compiled facts about him to produce a rounded psychological profile of who he really was - discovered “shocking” information about him, such as his demand after the attack on the Mukata that terrorism should end.
What will all those people who since 4 November have been rejoicing in internet chatrooms say, when Sharon meets with Arafat’s successor and shakes his care-worn hand? A new leader, but in comparison to “the fiend from hell”, he’s an angel in the flesh. He didn’t take part in the murders of the Munich athletes. He didn’t organize homosexual orgies under the flag of the PLO. He’s not a billionaire. Not yet. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt? Why not bolster his doubtful authority with a mass amnesty of terrorists, and a goodwill gesture in the form of an unexpected withdrawal from some strategic highway or dominating hill?
Smart as we are, it will still take many years for the majority of Israelis to understand that the fault lies not with the Chairman of the PA or the head of the Israeli government, but in the entanglement of Jews and Arabs. Building settlements beyond the limits that were defined in Oslo will create a basis for a long, bloody conflict – an eternal war that drains resources (or fills the coffers, in the case of those for whom permanent instability is a source of reliable income).
The recently-released economic indicators for the past year, and the forecast for the upcoming year, are forcing even his most hard-core skeptics and political opponents to admit that Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu has a certain - not quite fully realized - potential to be a great economist. And in order to allow that potential to be fully realized, they are ready to forgive Netanyahu everything, even his operatic ultimatum. If only he would remain in his post, and not abandon the economy to the rending of the hungry wolves of Israeli “socialism”.
According to the prediction of Dr. Michael Sharel, head of the Ministry of Finance’s research department, this year the gross national product (GNP) will grow 4.1%, which is 0.3% more than expected. The gross output of the business sector will grow 5.3% this year, and 5.2% in 2005. Recalculating this per capita, the GNP will grow 2.4% this year, and 2.1% next year. The absolute indicators of private property will grow 4.6% this year, and 2.8% next year. When recalculated per capita, we see, accordingly, a growth of 2.9% this year, and 1.1% next year. Does that sound reasonable?
The country is in its fifth year of war. Anti-terrorist raids, the mobilization of reserves, increasing the readiness of security forces in the cities and on the roads – this all costs a huge amount of money. For the state budget, this is not a long-term investment – it’s a pure expenditure. In these times, we could forgive the Minister of Finance for neutral economic indicators, or negative ones. War is war. But positive ones? Where did they come from? And what are these optimistic predictions based on?
Here’s what. Let’s look at a few more numbers. The cost of the wonderful government disengagement and compensation plan will be 3 billion shekels next year, and 2 billion more in 2006. Because of this, the budget deficit grew from 3% to 3.4% of GNP. The level of state expenditures grew by 2.2 billion shekels, and there will, more than likely, be more. Construction of bomb-proof buildings will cost another 10 billion shekels. By the time the northern and southern portions of the barrier meet, amidst great ceremony, we will already need to repair and rebuild the older parts, which the local Arabs will have managed to tear down and render worthless. Building the barrier is an expense with a big future. Let’s appoint a minister for it.
These astronomic numbers, although labeled “public spending”, didn’t leap from the budget at the stroke of a pen, but are a product of the economy. Building the barrier, like the government’s homebuilding project of the early 90’s, gives a boost to many related expenditures. Everything either directly or indirectly linked to the construction work is affected: sand and cement imports, the use of building technology, the demand for fuel and electricity, a thousands-strong labor force… About the only difference is that in the end we have not tens of thousands of apartments ready for repatriated citizens to move into, but a concrete-and-wire monstrosity, which, by the time it’s finished, the terrorists will probably have learned to penetrate with ease.
Economists, having gotten the gist of Bibinomics, have started making their own independent predictions. For instance, Ze’ev Klein published an article in Globes  entitled “The Demarcation Program”, in which he predicts how the economy might grow in view of the worldwide increase in energy prices. Klein calculated that following a rise in oil prices and a fall of high-tech NASDAQ stocks, the Israeli GNP might fall 0.2% in 2005. Or it could rise the same 0.2%, if there is an increase in public spending. If this turns out to be a more accurate figure for growth than Netanyahu’s, we can expect an increase in the number of repatriations [i.e. settlers returning from the Territories, ed], as long as we issue teudat oleh  to the settlers from Gush Khatif.
The Dance of Life
Poverty is a relative notion; hunger is absolute. Every country has its so-called “official poverty line”, but hunger does not change. (Though the noise an empty stomach makes varies depending on cultural traditions and general educational level: some have Count Pototsky’s tastes , others are more used to varnechkes). The empty Israeli stomach dominates the political parties’ pre-election campaigns.
Israel does not have poverty of the sort described by Dickens. Our people wear rags only when they want to, and do not die of hunger. But unemployed people’s apartments hold empty refrigerators, a fact often recorded by the TV, especially in the interminable run-up to the election. Television reporters are already preparing sharp social commentary, while the politicians ready their answers and sound bites. We could even use the old tapes because nothing has changed since the last time around. Without so much as an invitation to comment on the subject, Minister Avram Poraz (Shinui) assures us that talking about poverty is not at all demagogic. For its part, Shas could not miss the opportunity to publish another article about starving children, and propose a vote of no confidence in the government. The vote, of course, was defeated, but the story made it into the headlines, which is exactly what Shas wanted.
A refrigerator is not a self-setting tablecloth. If you don’t fill it, it will remain empty. But recipients of social aid do not have to have empty refrigerators, because those who receive a government allowance to ensure they exist at least above the poverty level, receive enough, in theory, to fill their refrigerators. Maybe not to the top, and not with the finest foreign goods, but enough to ensure the basic staples are on their shelves. Whose fault is it that this doesn’t happen, and tens of thousands of adults and children complain of a lack of food? Those who pay the government allowances in cash allow the recipients themselves to determine what they will buy, so that poverty comes not alone, but accompanied by other social ills: there are no guarantees that the unemployed person will not waste their allowance on drugs, alcohol, or actively and openly using the taxpayers’ money to play the state lottery. They waste it, and are left with nothing. Then they stand in line the next day for a free lunch in one of the many – and, by the way, not state-run – food lines.
If a part of the payment were given in the form of coupons that could only be spent in food stores, and if this portion were determined on the basis of the size of the family and the cost of healthy food, not a single invalid, not a single unwed mother would be the subject of investigative reports or stand before an empty refrigerator. It would be clear that they were guilty and not the ministers, political parties, government, or Knesset. The monetary portion of the allowance could be transferred into a special bank account, the owner of which would be obliged to establish direct debits to pay the electricity, gas, and telephone bills. This would eliminate the scandalous cases of utilities being terminated for lack of payment. And the size of the allowance could be logically determined, not calculated based on the wage level in the national economy, as is happening today.
That’s how you handle social issues – find work for those who are used to living on handouts. That’s how you lower the number of fictitious repatriates who “immigrate” to Israel several times per year, then empty their bank accounts and move to the CIS. You can solve many problems if you want to. But if our ultra-clever politicians leave everything as it is, they will create a situation in which some concentrate on the hungry or unfortunate, some concentrate on creating “a healthy economy”, and the rest spit from on high at the middle class.
 Arab. generic "leader". The title by which Arafat was most commonly known among Palestinians.
 Globes is a Hebrew-language daily newspaper, specializing in financial news.
 The blue booklet that immigrants to Israel receive when clearing customs at their port of entry. It lists the government subsidies - loans, rent rebates, tax-free imports and local purchases – the bearer is entitled to.
 Walentyn Potocki was a 17th-century Polish count who gave up his life a nobleman in order to convert to Judaism (at that time illegal in Eastern Europe), and was martyred in 1749 rather than return to Christianity.
 Russian noodle-based dish, i.e. peasant food.
Translation, and all errors therein, brought to you courtesy of Lawrence of Cyberia.