The American press, predictably, is portraying the summit in Annapolis in strictly Bush v. Clinton terms. Clinton got engaged and failed, Bush is not getting engaged... and will also fail. The process is doomed to failure without outside pressure. Maybe. But also: Maybe not.
The Israeli press, equally predictably, is viewing the event differently, and it's important that we understand what they're saying. And that is: Bush is a groupie of Israel and, with the possibly exception of Giuliani, that is not likely to be the case next time, so better do something now in favorable terms or face a harsh reality in 2009 or beyond. There are problems with this point of view, too (if peace today is so favorable to Israel the Palestinians will balk) but it may be a smarter way to view the event. Here's Yoel Marcus in Haaretz:
Bush's road map has tangled up everything in a knot with its sequential demands: Before commencing permanent status talks, the Palestinians are supposed to halt terror and dismantle the terror organizations, and Israel is supposed to evacuate outposts in the territories. These demands have set the proverbial dog running in circles, chasing its own tail. Sly foxes like Sharon and Olmert have embraced the road map on the supposition that the Palestinians are not capable of ending terror.
Condoleezza Rice is the one who urged Bush to cut this Gordian knot with an international conference attended by the Quartet, the moderate Arab countries, and anyone supportive of peace in the Middle East. The conference thus created sponsorship for the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, a return to 1967 borders, and the creation of settlement blocs based on territorial exchange. Israel, which has always been traumatized by the idea of an imposed solution, received a promise from Bush that the Annapolis summit would only sponsor the talks, and not twist Israel's arm.
The summit in its current configuration, with Syria represented by a deputy minister (half coffee/half tea) has divided the world into good guys and bad guys, and isolated Iran and Hamas. For Bush, that is already a major accomplishment, says Americologist Zvi Rafiah.
As far as the talks themselves are concerned, it is still up to the Palestinians to prove that they're on the side of the good guys. The presence of the moderate Arab states is meant to back up Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. That is important not only for Abbas, but also for Israel.
We have never had a president like George W. Bush, and chances are we will never have another. If we reach an agreement, we are not only clinching a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, but with the whole of the moderate Arab world. On the other hand, Israel could find itself under pressure and sanctions from the whole of the international community if it fails to open up and engage in a serious discussion of core issues, as Olmert promised to do a few weeks ago.
It is doubtful that America's next president will be as friendly and supportive as Bush, who can be trusted not to pressure us on issues that compromise Israel's security and survival. So whatever can be achieved we must try to achieve now, while Bush is still at the helm. We are not going to be able to fool all of the people all of the time.
Bush showed his hypocrisy by criticizing Nancy Pelosi for talking to Syria ("aiding and abetting the enemy," "signalling to Syria they are part of the international community") then inviting Syria to U.S. NAVAL HEADQUARTERS, but having the moderate Arab states there was Condi's big coup. If there is peace, or even intermediate steps toward peace, the Arab world has pre-signed on to supporting it. The reason for that, of course, is that a weakened Iraq has strengthened Iran and its cronies Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Arab world fears them.
For better or worse, Annapolis was the first event of the post-war-in-Iraq-Middle East, which is one reason why the participants didn't exactly know how to act -- and another reason we have no choice but to give it a chance.