Is Netanyahu Really "Bafflingly Stupid"?

Matt Yglesias sees much to admire in this analysis of the current moment, but adds:

I think Chait’s enthusiasm for the analysis reflects the main pathology of mainstream American Jewish thinking on the subjecta bizarre willingness to believe that Israeli politicians are bafflingly stupid. I mean, yes of course nobody will believe that Netanyahu seeks peace as long as his top priority is to expand settlements. Yes of course if Israel wants the world to believe that Israel holds the moral high ground it should unambiguously offer to renounce occupation. Yes of course if it’s really true that the Palestinians are hell-bent on refusing reasonable peace offers Israel should expose this fact. But that’s just to say that the current Israeli government isn’t seeking peaceit’s seeking settlements.

These aren’t tactical blunders, they’re substantive commitments.

Amen. Chait fires back:

I confess to believing that the current Israeli government is bafflingly stupid. I don't understand why such a belief is necessarily "bizarre." The United States recently finished eight years of being governed by a bafflingly stupid administration. I see baffling stupidity in politics all the time. I don't think that makes you naive, let alone pathological. Does Yglesias think George W. Bush's plan was to spend the remainder of his first term and all of his second term fighting a counterinsurgency in Iraq, and letting Osama bin Laden escape Tora Bora?

No, but it has long been Netanyahu's plan - and that of his coalition partners - to permanently coopt the West Bank. This is obviously stupid, but not "bafflingly" so. It's obvious why. Netanyahu and his allies have long wanted Greater Israel. God, they believe, gave all of Judea and Samaria to the Jewish people, and they also believe that occupying them permanently is essential to Israeli security. Christianists believe the same and see the process as an unfolding of divine destiny. Why are we supposed to be incapable of recognizing fundamentalism when it stares us in the face? This is the issue - which is why I do not believe for a moment that Israel will voluntarily leave the West Bank in my lifetime.

They're there for ever, if they can manage it. And when your policy is ultimately governed by religious diktat and fathomless paranoia, then there is no reason to wonder why it's self-defeating. It doesn't matter if it's self-defeating. It's your religious and sacred duty to stay put and expand; and psychologically impossible to withdraw.

This, to echo Matt, is obviously more than a tactical error, like Tora Bora. It's a strategic goal. AIPAC is just waiting for president Palin to back an acceleration of settlements and a full-scale war, subsidized by Americans, against Iran.

Like Matt, I'm tired of pretending that the West Bank settlements aren't Israeli policy when they could stop them any time - and won't. Like Matt, I'm tired of a simple minimal request by an American president - to freeze construction of such settlements - being interpreted as some kind of attack on Israel, and pilloried by AIPAC, TNR, Commentary, WaPo, National Review et al. Like Matt, I do not believe we can have a real debate about this without acknowledging the radicalism of the current Israeli center.

Either you favor Greater Israel or you don't. Those who sided with Netanyahu over Obama in this fight for the future favor Greater Israel in fact. Their claimed opposition to settlements has been rebutted by their actions these past two years. And every day, their vision becomes a deeper part of reality.