For 40 years, State Department Arabists and secretaries of state seem to have believed that Assad pere et fils were on the brink of instituting reform and making peace with Israel. For reasons that are unclear, Obama evidently clings to that forlorn hope for change.
But on one issue Obama took the old State Department line. "The status quo" between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, "is unsustainable." The United States needs to pressure Israel into making concessions.
He emphasized this issue even though it's obvious that it's not a priority or even of much interest to the "Arab Spring protestors." And even though, as he mentioned in his speech, the merger of Fatah and Hamas means that Israel does not have a negotiating partner willing to recognize its right to exist.
He continued to press his demand, made by no previous president, that Israel stop all "settlements," even in Jerusalem. Of course, he failed to note that that demand derailed any possible negotiations, since no Israeli leader will ever agree and since, once Obama made it, Palestinian leaders had to insist on it, too.
And he asserted -- also a first for an American president -- that an agreement "should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." Previous presidents have said that adjustments should recognize changes that have occurred in the last 44 years.
Obama did not, and he added that all Israeli troops should be withdrawn from Palestinian territory, undercutting any Israeli demand to leave a defensive force along the Jordan River.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sitting next to Obama in the Oval Office after their meeting Friday, said flatly that the 1967 (actually 1949-67) lines were unacceptable and that asking Israel to negotiate with Hamas is like asking the United States to negotiate with al-Qaida.
Obama deserves credit for going to the State Department to renounce State Department policy on the Middle East. Unfortunately, he didn't follow through on that on Israel and the Palestinians.