As Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton begin to use their uncommon authority and intelligence to implement a new American international agenda, it might behoove them to read a speech given some years ago in Beijing. It read in part: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights for one and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely—and the right to be heard. Women must enjoy the rights to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.”
Secretary Clinton was first lady when she spoke those words at a United Nations conference on women in 1995. Some of the participants wept to hear an influential American commit to a view of the world so many of them shared: that the way for nations to prosper was to pay attention to women’s rights, women’s welfare and women’s concerns.
President Obama has chosen a secretary of state who can make that course of action an integral part of the American strategy around the world. Their partnership promises a new paradigm. Obama is the first post-macho president, a man raised by the kind of struggling single mother who is the canary in the mine of health and welfare everywhere. Clinton is a female leader with proven mettle; there is not a country on earth that does not know of her power and her ability. Together they can free the United States to finally pursue policies that emphasize collaboration and connection instead of confrontation.
The one region where Israel is arguably not more isolated is the Middle East. Israel’s push for Arab recognition suffered a setback when Mauritania and Qatar severed relations, but four Arab summits have reached no consensus on how to respond to Gaza. Major states, led by Jordan and Egypt, want to lend no comfort to their Persian rival, Iran, the backer of Hamas. Moreover, Hamas has not emerged as a plucky hero to the Arab world, the way Hizbullah did in 2006. When the fighting quieted last week, Hamas held a “victory” parade in Gaza City, and it fizzled.
Israel has just one key friend. Could Obama, who promised the Muslim world “a new way forward” in his Inaugural Address, loosen the bond? A recent Pew poll shows 55 percent of U.S. Republicans, but only 45 percent of Democrats, approve of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Given that Democrats now rule, Israel may need to worry more about the mood on Main Street than on the Arab Street.