Recent mutterings about the personal enmity between the great leaders, with the greatest of them all wondering about his years at the top.
And Israelis arguing about the nature of Palestinian violence.
Connecting the two kinds of speculation is a widespread need to know, despite the reality that we can't know it all.
There is nothing new to the personal tensions between Benyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. We can speculate that it derives partly from the different interests of their two countries, and partly from a clash of personalities.
The second gets the most attention. It looks like Bibi against Barack. The man from the little country does not speak out publicly against the man from the big country, but there is no shortage of Likudniks and other Israelis who do it for him. Here Obama is widely seen as naive with respect to the Middle East and international affairs generally, as well as having too warm emotional ties to Islam. Some go too far and say that he is a Muslim. Others talk about the fuzzy posture of a wannabe, with stories of bowing to the kind of Saudi Arabia rather than acting with the haughtiness appropriate to the world's most powerful government.
The man from the big country has not been hesitant to describe his testy encounters with Netanyahu, saying how the Israeli sought to lecture him from a posture of superiority, while Obama responded by noting that the road he took as the Black son of a single mother to the White House taught him what he needed to know.
To Obama's intellectual credit, but not adding to him political acumen, are admissions that he may not have acted with full understanding of various issues.
Involved in the tension are two personalities that are close to identical. Both have the enormous egos associated with those who have climbed high in the competitive game of politics. Both may also be carrying the minority's need to be assertive, with Obama's coming from the color of his skin, and Netanyahu's from being a Jew, and the son of a man who saw the world as them against us.
It's common to say that interests more than personality affect the actions of politicians who operate from high office. What Obama does reflects the many interests of the United States, while Netanyahu's postures come from the narrower interests of a little country with a history of being surrounded by powerful enemies. That the reality of Netanyahu's Israel is much different from the image held by many of those worrying about Israel provides the opportunity for Netanyahu''s political adversaries to campaign against what they claim is his excessive harshness against Palestinians, and pushing against the tolerance of American and European allies. Against his critics, however, Bibi's defenders have no trouble in quoting frequent draconian threats from Iranians, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as the waffling of the so-called moderate Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas.
Currently on the table is a package of increased aid that the US is offering Israel to deal with the hostility of Iran, and Israel's demands for a bigger package. Us commoners aren't familiar with the details, but we hear that the gap is large.
The issue comes against the background of what Israelis see as Obama's obsessive and shortsighted pursuit of an agreement with Iran, and Americans' sense that the Israeli Prime Minister insulted their President by speaking to a Republican dominated Congress against the deal.
Now we're all wondering who will get to the White House. About Trump, we have to speculate from the collection of his one-liners and his lack of governmental experience. From here, the scenes of supporters and opponents fighting at his rallies, with Trump seeming to enjoy it, recalls the Nazis' rise to powerת with Nazi activists battling opponents.
Will the articulate clown who's made and lost money in business have a decent record as President? Or will he operate like the fool he sounds like on the platform?
About Hillary, we can parse her votes in the Senate over the course of eight years, a mixed record as Secretary of State when she was Obama's underling, and a few comments critical of the President. Interests groups from the right and left give her scores on the liberal side of things, but not so far to the left as to suggest an ideologue who won't pay attention to the details. Yet the issue of e-mails suggests that she is sloppy with respect to rules that make sense. And her promotion of a US attack on Qaddafi against a hesitant President suggests that she is as short on understanding this region as Obama.
Israelis are also speculating about the Palestinians/Israeli Arabs. We live alongside of them, and can't avoid mixing on the street, while shopping, at work, on the beach, and numerous other encounters. Most often it's Israeli Arabs we encounter, but there are two hundred thousand Palestinians from the West Bank who work here, with the Arabs of Jerusalem somewhere between their Israeli and Palestinian cousins.
It's not easy thinking across the lines of language, religion, culture, and politics. Individuals we have known, who should know better, express the Palestinian narrative about who did what from 1948 to last week. Do they really believe all that they say, or are they afraid of expressing something other than the acceptable line?
It's still the view of military personnel that the present wave of violence is the work of individuals or small groups. Critics have no trouble producing explanations that carry a taste of conspiracy. Some see Hamas or Abbas behind it, skilled in planning attacks and recruiting individuals willing to risk their lives. Such explanations come along with criticism of the government for not recognizing the problem they must deal with.
No doubt that Hamas, various Jihadist movements, the Islamic State, al Quaida, and clusters that identify with Abbas' Fatah are trying to recruit individuals to attack Jews and ignite another intifada. Whether coordination occurs alongside their competition, and which may be responsible for each attack by an individual, a pair, or small number working together is something that eludes any certainty. The Syrian story demonstrates that civil war is as much a feature of Islam as any working together, careful planning. and implementation of those plans.
Arguing in the context of uncertainty is always risky. Comparisons are elusive. History never repeats itself. The details always differ, and that's where the devil resides.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem