When seen in the context of previous U.S.-sponsored peace gatherings, the Annapolis Summit will have the distinction of being the one where the medium was the message. Judging by the way President Bush explained the 'successful' meeting, it is as if the guiding principle was "we met, therefore we succeeded." We’ve now had sixteen years of the Madrid conference, fourteen years of the Oslo Accords, four years of the Road Map, and seven years of the Bush Administration’s essential neglect of serious, sustained peacemaking efforts, except the occasional reference to the President's 'Vision.' Now, the United States presided over an international conclave to celebrate the triumph of the process. Even the rhetoric was not soaring, and eloquence was absent, and the host at times looked as if he had only been asked to show up. But at least we were spared the pretense that the leaders are seeking the 'peace of the brave.'
The 'pale' Annapolis 'joint understanding' between the Palestinians and Israelis, as described by one Arab analyst, sets a series of procedural steps to implement past agreements, a steering committee to establish negotiating teams, and a tentative, non-binding wish to reach an agreement before the end of 2008. And in the tradition of the past being a prologue, another General from the Marine Corps was appointed as a new security envoy. The document was so devoid of substance that the parties were unable to agree on identifying the terms of reference that should guide the negotiations, or on naming the 'core issues' at the heart of their conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees, the Israeli settlements and borders.
No wonder, then, that the initial Arab reaction to Annapolis as expressed by a number of commentators and columnists was one of skepticism, even derision. Arab commentators noted, as did their American colleagues, the importance the Bush Administration attached to broad Arab participation, particularly that of Saudi Arabia. But as one commentator wrote, they wondered if the U.S. gave its moderate Arab friends anything beyond hollow promises and the mirage of peace.
It is true that the collective fear of an ascending, belligerent Iran was the subtext at Annapolis. But while fear is a very strong motivator of men (as Machiavelli eloquently advised his prince), it is not sufficient glue to keep them united and guide them to accomplish good deeds. In this context, the president's 'vision' should be more encompassing and, dare we say, comprehensive. For peace to hold, it needs to be comprehensive. At Annapolis, there was only lip service to comprehensive peace. Even a predatory regime like the one in Syria should be brought into the fold under the right conditions.
Annapolis was convened in the shadow of Iran and Hamas, and the conference once again showed that there is a scandalous absence of imagination on the part of Palestinians, Israelis and Americans to come up with ways to deal with the tragic predicament of a million and a half Palestinians holed up in the desolation of 'Planet Gaza' at the mercy of Hamas. There are many accomplices, local and international, in the tragedy of Gaza.
Finally, at Annapolis President Bush once again looked at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the prism of the 'war on terror' and his democracy agenda. Yet this conflict predates Hamas, Islamic Iran and al-Qaeda, and it will continue to fester even if the region becomes more open, absent a resolution that addresses the core issues.