WASHINGTON - The most important country in the Annapolis meeting is the one that is not taking part in it: Iran. Teheran is the reason for everything. The fact that dozens of Arab and Muslim governments agreed to take part in the meeting is related less to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and much more to their fear of a nuclear Iran and of the threat Islamic movements pose to their regimes.
Their foreign ministers arrived here, will take part in the dinner hosted by Condoleezza Rice Monday night, and adorn (some wearing fancy robes, others wearing suits) the Annapolis meeting Tuesday.
Bush and Rice will enjoy themselves a little. They will have enough photographs to present American public opinion with a Muslim world that is mostly on America’s side, despite Iraq and despite the other US foreign policy failures in the Middle East.
Pretty. And maybe not so pretty, from an Israeli vantage point at least. Veteran Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal combined his announcement regarding his participation in the meeting with an obligation not to shake hands with any Israeli representative. This has been a Saudi custom for a while now. Its representatives also took part in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference convened immediately after the American victory in the First Gulf War, and there too they played their games, as if Israel is a leper and must not be touched.
They agreed to hold secret meetings, rarely. These meetings (the most famous being the one between Ehud Olmert and Prince Bandar) aroused great Israeli expectations, which were usually dashed.
We don’t need empty gesturesWhat changed in the meantime is the scope of the Iranian threat. In the past, just like other regimes in oil-exporting countries, the Saudis preferred to pay off their enemies instead of fighting them. The funding offered to al-Qaeda and to other terror elements in the Arab world, including Hamas, came form the Saudi pocket to a large extent (and considering the meteoric rise in the prices of oil, terror was in fact funded by its victims in the West.)
Yet the Saudis cannot pay off Iran. In order to stop it, they need America. And because they cannot refuse America, just like they could not refuse it in 1991, they agreed to sit under the same roof as Israel’s prime minister.
Israel does not need such empty gestures. If Arab countries known as “moderate” view the need to curb Iran as an existential matter, they must fundamentally change their attitude to Israel. In 1990, Israel was not invited to join the coalition established by America against Saddam Hussein. America made do without us. The situation may not be the same this time around.
The time has come for them to openly recognize Israel’s existence, its status, and its balancing power vis-à-vis Iran. If they don’t recognize Israel, this will be their problem. There is no need (or point) for Israel to be chasing the Muslim robes.