Did Annapolis work?


The Annapolis Summit Conference on Middle East Peace is now history, and surprisingly most of the commentators and pundits give the gathering more than a passing grade. In anticipation of the gathering at the U.S. Naval Academy, American, Israeli and Palestinian spokespersons went out of their way to discourage any expectation of a major “breakthrough” or a final agreement on the vexing issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To be sure, there was the anticipated three-way picture for the eager photojournalists of President George W. Bush standing between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, recalling the similar images of former President Jimmy Carter and the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, at the successful conclusion of the Camp David process that resulted in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that is still in effect.

While empty photo-ops are no substitute for real progress, the mere fact of Bush, Olmert and Abbas affirming the commitment to re-start the long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, while being applauded by representatives of 46 other nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and even Syria, sent a powerful message not only to the Middle East but to the rest of the world. The historically large attendance on the part of Arab nations was an indication of a growing awareness by many of them that a stable Israel at peace with a stable Palestinian state would be a powerful counterweight to the radical elements in the region, including Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Much work remains to be done, and both Olmert and Abbas face daunting challenges of having to make major concessions with very weak political support. We hope that the positive atmosphere achieved at Annapolis will carry over into a process that will at last lead to a two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.