Sarah Palin is even crazier than I imagined

I haven't read the former Alaska governor's new book, but I see that she's already brought the crazy in an interview with ABC News.

"I disagree with the Obama administration" on Israeli settlements, Palin told Barbara Walters. Fair enough. It sure seems like the administration's heavy focus on getting Benjamin Netanyahu to commit to a settlement freeze has backfired, making the Israeli prime minister more popular than ever and exposing the impotence of Palestinian leader Mamoud Abbas in the process.

But that's not what Palin meant.

"I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow," she continued. "More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."

This is, quite frankly, morally and strategically obtuse. Setting aside the "right" of Israel to take land that the Palestinians see as theirs, as Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg wrote last January in FP, the settlements are hugely problematic for peace:

The message written on the landscape is simple: Every day, the settlements expand. Every day, Israel grows more entangled in the West Bank. To a large degree, the Israeli and Palestinian publics have accepted the need for a two-state solution. But time, and the construction crews, are working against it. No one knows exactly where the point of no return is—when so many Israelis will have moved into so many homes beyond the pre-1967 border that there is no going back. But each passing day brings that tipping point nearer. If a solution is not achieved quickly, it might soon be out of reach.

This is why, from their inception, successive American presidents of both parties have denounced this colonization of the West Bank, although rarely, such as when George H.W. Bush put real pressure on the Israelis by temporarily holding up loan guarantees, have they done more about it than talk. Even George W. Bush, the bulk of whose Israel policy can be fairly summed up as "Let Ariel Sharon do what he wants," at least expressed his displeasure over the settlements every now and again.

So Palin is way out there on the lunatic fringe, supporting an Israeli policy that all serious people understand to be deeply corrosive to the prospects for peace and to Israel itself. But I'd also note that her lack of precision in talking about the issue, while hardly surprising, betrays a continued lack of familiarity with even the most basic nuances of the conflict. She doesn't, for instance, make any distinction between existing settlements and new ones, which is at the heart of the debate right now.

It's depressing to think that this lazy, uninformed woman might have been a heartbeat away from the presidency.


Daytime soaps

Peru is starting to remind me of a character in a Latin American soap opera. A wife who has grown to hate her husband, Chile, after a near divorce (the 19th century war) followed by decades of perceived slights. She sits at home, stewing and seeing infidelities everywhere (accusations that Chile and Bolivia are making a secret deal, that Chile is preparing for war, that Chile is taking parts of the coastline). She frequently confronts him hysterically, and then they fight. This, of course, doesn't mean he isn't cheating.

If it were really a soap, Chile would obviously have planted spies in the Peruvian military, as the latter's government is alleging. The spy was apparently sending information south about an ongoing border dispute case in the International Court of Justice. As of last count, Peruvian officials were talking about six supposed spies, some of whom are already on the lam; Peruvian president Alan Garcia called Chile a tinpot republic; Chilean President Michelle Bachelet responded to these "offensive" and "pompous" statements with cool denials; in the meantime her minister of foreign relations assured Chile that "derogatory accusations" do not affect them.

As if all this weren't enough, as in any soap opera, there are ambiguous minor characters in both countries: the legislators in Chile who accuse Peru of orchestrating a hostile communication strategy, and the original alleged spy, Víctor Ariza, whose mother cries and threatens to cut off her hands.

The madness doesn't go as far as war, the Peruvian authorities are attempting to avoid accusing Bachelet herself of involvement, and most analysts agree trade relations should continue uninterrupted. It's part of what diplomats there call a two strands approach: political relations on one side, trade on the other.

As interesting as it is, the analysis is thin on what is really going on. There are many serious stakes in all this, after all. Can it really be chalked up to the long-standing rivalry between the two countries dating back to the 1883 War of the Pacific?

One article in an Argentine paper questions the timing of the story -- which broke when Garcia and Bachelet were at a summit together -- and points out that it serves as a distracting and unifying issue for Garcia, at a time when he faces unrest and unpopularity at home. His approval ratings are at 26 percent, dropping to 14 percent in many areas of the country.

In the next nail-biting episode: If Peru presents Chile with proof, how will Chile respond?