The final sessions of this week's peace summit in Annapolis hadn't even been held by the time this week's newspaper went to press. But a preliminary reading of the event shows that with American prodding, both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority seem to be heading back to the negotiating table. Whether it's an earnest effort remains to be seen.
Despite the pledge of a settlement by the end of 2008, it's far from discernable if progress is in the offing. The primary obstacle is the fact that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas has little control over security in the West Bank, where he ostensibly governs, and none at all over Gaza, where Hamas rules. While most Israelis would probably be willing to give up a great deal for peace, the Palestinians must still get their own house in order first. In the past, land given up by Israel in the hope of peace has always turned out to be used as a launching pad for more terror. Handing territory over to Abbas — no matter how great Israel's concessions turn out to be — is on hold until it's clear that he can prevent a repeat of what happened in Gaza.
Nevertheless, even those most cynical about the summit must admit that the array of Arab leaders, even those like the representatives of Saudi Arabia (who, of course, refused to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert), was impressive. The turnout was due, in part, to a full-court press on the part of the Bush administration to lend credibility to its peace push. But there's little doubt that the factor that did the most to convince many to attend is concern about the growing power and influence of one nation that wasn't there: Iran.
While the reality of so-called "moderate" Arab nations is debatable, there's no question that they are all worried about Iran's ability to use both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program to expand its influence. The Bush administration believes that a renewed commitment to solving the Palestinian dilemma will enable it to count on increased support from these nations as it presses ahead with efforts to isolate Tehran.
That premise is also up for discussion, but now that Washington has pushed the Israelis into these talks — and Bush has once again declared his passionate belief in the creation of a Palestinian state — it raises the question of what we can now expect the "moderates" in the Arab and Muslim world to do about the "radicals."
In the coming months, rather than obsessing about the twists and turns in talks between Olmert and Abbas, what Americans should really focus on is whether or not the Saudis — and others who have much to fear from Iran — are backing U.S. efforts to stop its nearby neighbor from going nuclear. More than any failure to achieve the impossible via Israel and the Palestinians, a collapse of Bush's would-be coalition against Iran would mark the Annapolis meeting as a historic fiasco.