The news out of Annapolis is mixed. The optics were certainly all there: a joint statement, uplifting speeches, impressive attendees list and presidential commitment. Of course, the statement lacked substance, but really, it was the statement's existence, not substance, that was important. Failure to produce a joint statement, even one so bereft of content, would have been an inauspicious beginning.
When listening to the speech of President Bush versus that of both Olmert and Abbas, one cannot help but be struck by how jarring, divisive and dangerous Bush continues to be, with his Star-Wars-esque narrative of good versus evil - especially when compared to the more uplifting and empathetic speeches by Olmert and Abbas. It is this narrative that goes down like a lead balloon in the region and the policies it begets may well be the biggest obstacle to progress post-Annapolis. Though we got our nice statements today and there will be cold hard cash for the Palestinians at the Paris donor’s conference in three weeks time, it is ultimately the developments in the region, whether negotiations make progress or are paralyzed and whether the situation on the ground improves or deteriorates, that will define the legacy of Annapolis. If the Roadmap, stuck for the past four-and-half years, is still stuck in a month, and the negotiations are still at an impasse, all those currently sniping from the sidelines at Annapolis and looking like mean-spirited spoilers will feel vindicated and be strengthened. If Annapolis is more about isolating Iran, defeating Hamas and generally delivering a blow to DarthVader’s stormtroopers than it is about delivering a viable and realistic two-state solution – in other words, more of the same – then we can expect exactly that, more of the destruction and violence that we have seen over the past seven years.
On this front, it does not bode well that just about everyone appears to remain in the undecided category on Syria. President Bush was pointed and cutting in his reference to Lebanon, while the Syrians, for their part, chose to be represented by only a Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad. Annapolis does not yet mark the turning of a new page in the Syria file.
Back on the Israel-Palestine track, if the post-Annapolis process is to gain real traction, then it must be recognized that a divided Palestinian polity cannot midwife a stable, implementable peace. The Hamas spoiler potential is not solely or even principally about its ability to deploy violence but, rather, about the credibility and legitimacy of a process that excludes a democratically elected party. No matter how good the performance at Annapolis, the conflict in question remains grievance-based and its resolution lies in ending the occupation. Though this may be a tough little pill to swallow, America must recognize that the pursuit of an inclusive and comprehensive peace process is not only crucial to progress in the region, but is also therefore vital to the American national interest.