We can ask the question about those leading the US, Israel, Palestine, and no doubt several other places.
Israel''s Defense Minister Moshe Ya''alon reached the headlines again for what ranking Americans perceived as insulting remarks about the weakness of the United States shown in dealing with Syria, Ukraine, and Iran, and the need of Israel to rely on itself in the matter of Iran.
After some angry theatrics from official American spokespeople, Ya''alon issued yet another half-hearted apology. He did not mean to insult the country that Israel relies on more than any other.
The State Department''s spokesperson made a hurt sounding rejection of what Ya''alon issued as an apology, suggesting that freedom of expression has a limited reach in the United States. The American emperor now demands at least the rituals of humility from his foreign clients. It reminds us of the bowing and scraping required at a royal court. Remember that critics of Richard Nixon''s innovations of pomp and ceremony introduced the notion of an Imperial Presidency.
Israeli commentators were severe in criticizing Ya''alon. Not for the substance of what he said, but for having said it in public. How could the ranking Israeli defense person be so foolish as to risk Israel''s dependence on the political, technological, and economic support of its best--and sometimes only--friend. Surely there will be retaliation, perhaps the next time the IDF requests something important from American suppliers.
According to the Ha''aretz cartoonist, it is not Moshe Ya''alon, but Valadimir Putin who is making pee pee in the pool being used by Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and Benyamin Netanyahu.
One needn''t wonder about Netanyahu''s appearance in the cartoon. It is, after all, the work of Ha''aretz..
For his part in the Ya''alon flap, Prime Minister Netanyahu said what he had to about Israel''s dependence on the United States. However, he has been sufficiently quiet in his public criticism of Ya''alon to suggest that he agrees with the substance of his Defense Minister''s comments.
Some of Netanyahu''s care in criticizing Ya''alon might reflect the suspicion that Ya''alon is positioning himself to compete with Netanyahu for leadership of Likud and the Israeli government. If Ya''alon pries the right wing of Likud away from Netanyahu, there won''t be much left for the present Prime Miniter. Ya''alon''s comments about the United States are likely to ring true with many here who have looked askance at the contrast between high level US bombast with respect to Syria, Iran, and Russia, and the impotence of the US in action.
Israelis have criticized the US administration for its unrealistic aspirations about Israel and Palestine, and have recognized the problem with their own emperor''s clothes in the matter of violence from our neighbors.
Harsh words directed at Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon have not squared with the limited Israeli responses to attacks on its civilians or soldiers. One can recognize that as part of the political game in a testy part of the world not likely to be peaceful anytime soon, and Israel''s desire to avoid escalation, or international sanctions for being too harsh. Nonetheless, the contrast between words and actions is a cause of worry that our neighbors may have trouble reading the message.
Israel''s emperor is having another problem within his own home, and with his empress. The manager of the Prime Minister''s residence resigned, and initiated a suit for more than one million shekels (about $300,000) for what he describes as Sara''s wild and insulting behavior. This is not the first sign of problems in the Netanyahu home, but the details in this case are especially juicy. Sara allegedly called the manager at his home at 3 AM, chewed him out for buying milk in the wrong kind of container, and demanded that he drive immediately about an hour to the Netanyahu''s weekend residence with milk in the kind of container she demanded. On another occasion, she is said to have accused the manager of serving too much food, saying that she and her husband were "Europeans" and could not eat as much as her Moroccan manager without getting unseemly fat for the photographs that would be made on their overseas trips.
The view of Ha''aretz cartoonist on the saga is to show an angry Sara troubling Bibi at 3 in the morning about a milk carton, with the Prme Minister saying, "Sweetheart, I have an exercise about Iran at 6 in the morning.":
Netanyahu attorneys are threatening the former manager with violating the secrecy agreements that he had signed, and Israelis are enjoying the current chapter of a soap opera that began long ago.
And what about the Palestinian emperor?
The man considered president in the West Bank and among the leaders of Western governments?
Or the man considered president by the regime claiming to rule Gaza?
Prominent on the list of Israeli quarrels is the government''s relations with Palestine in its various manifestations.
- What to do about violence from Gaza?
- What to do with respect to negotiations that seem to be going nowhere with Abbas?
- Is Abbas a reliable partner?
If the US, with its concerns for democracy and the rule of law can deal with a regime whose head has overstayed his term by more than five years, then little Israel can do no less.
Shimon Peres is the most prominent Israeli saying that Abbas is a partner.
Peres has invested so much in the peace process, from the time he was the father of Oslo, that he may have to say that any Palestinian willing to talk with Israelis is a partner for peace.
The politicians and commentators who agree with Peres are mostly those who left of center on things Palestinian, and inclined to blame Israeli officials for mishandling opportunities for peace.
Most outspoken on the other side are doubters from the right, especially those inclined to support demands for adding to Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank.
The best argument for dealing with Abbas is that he has spoken against a renewal of violence as the way for Palestinians to achieve their national aspirations.
The best argument for not dealing with Abbas is that he has been inconsistent about the crucial issue of refugees, as well as his illegitimacy in the Gazan half of Palestine, and his questionable legitimacy in the West Bank.
In this context, can Israel count on Palestinians honoring any agreement Abbas might sign with respect to a final resolution of Palestinian claims?
Not to worry, insofar as all the signs are that no Palestinian in the leadership cadres is about to sign on anything.
Comments by Israeli politicians about Palestine resemble Israel''s posture on nuclear weapons. Ambiguity is the policy preferred over anything more definite. There is no prospect of an agreement with Palestine on the horizon. Yet it would be counterproductive to dismiss officially chances of an accord. That would release the most extreme of the messianic settlers to cause even more problems with the US and Europe, as well as the prospect of renewed Palestinian violence.
All of these cases are a muddle, with us commoners having to figure out what is theater, what is real, what is possible or practical, and how careful we must be in commentating about our betters.