The first semester grades for the Obama administration's foreign policy are coming in. President Obama promised us change and hope. He pledged to "reset" our relationship with Russia. He took the bold step of sending U.S. ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela. He asked for nothing in return. He even offered an open hand to the jihadist mullahs who rule Iran.
With one nation, however, this new administration has led off with a tough, unyielding negotiating stance. That nation is Israel. The latest Pew poll of foreign publics shows that Israelis' views of America are growing more negative. The United States is now viewed favorably by 6 percent fewer Israelis than it was as recently as 2007. The Arabs of Palestine have a more favorable view of Obama's America, but that has not translated into lower levels of support for suicide bombers. Two out of three of these Arabs agree with these terror bombings, mostly against Israel.
The centerpiece of Obama policy in the 60-year old Arab-Israeli dispute is firm U.S. opposition to any natural expansion of Israeli housing tracts near existing settlements on the West Bank. With the rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, with many Jews in Europe seeking to immigrate to Israel, with young Israeli families seeking to grow, the pressure to accommodate these people in Israel is very real.
If Israeli settlements cannot expand, she will suffocate. Obama's announced policy is a tourniquet around Israel's neck. Israel is a mere matchbook on a football field. No one even suggests limiting the settlements of Palestinian Arabs.
In one hand, President Obama extends an olive branch toward the Arab world. In the other, he bears this tourniquet for Israel. This will be his way to assure skeptical peoples in the Middle East, and in broader areas where Islam predominates. He is the Expected One. He, and he alone, can resolve the historic impasse in this region. He is our Alexander and the Arab-Israeli dispute is his Gordian Knot.
How can he do this? Well, Obama is the greatest Democrat, we are told, since FDR.
The Jews of the United States have long placed great hopes in the party of FDR. The Yiddish joke 70 years ago was that Jews placed their hopes for change in three worlds: diese velt, jene velt, un Roosevelt (this world, the world to come, and Roosevelt). If Obama can dominate the party of FDR, he can stifle criticism of his anti-Israel policies. That's the only way, many liberals today believe, that peace can be achieved in the Mideast-by leaning on Israel.
There is a bitter irony here. When Iranian students demanding freedom took to the blood-soaked streets of Tehran last month, Obama washed his hands. He did not want to be seen to be "meddling" in an internal Iranian matter. That student revolt might have served as the spark for a larger uprising within Iran. And that uprising could have been America's best hope for positive change in the Mideast. It could have been our best prospect to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program without force.
Obama has felt no such compunction about tying Israel's hands. Applying the "no expansion" tourniquet to Israel's settlements is a way not just of meddling but also of dominating the life of the Jewish state. Can Israel truly be sovereign-or even survive-if she cannot expand? If she cannot breathe? As one of my friends has put it: President Obama is bringing us something new: "Change you can bereave in."
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow with the Family Research Council.