The factor attesting to Washington’s overwhelming success is the full presence, at the highest ranks, of all Mideastern countries and leading international community elements, as well as the joint declaration that the Administration managed to squeeze out of Olmert and Abbas. Bush and Condi could not hope for more than that.
On the other hand, the big loser is Syria. Bashar Assad sent a representative to Annapolis in the hopes that during the meeting participants will recognize Damascus’ interests (returning the Golan Heights and reinstating Syria’s special status in Lebanon), or at least make note of them in a respectful manner. Yet Bush, Abbas, and Olmert, whose speeches marked the core of this meeting, did not meet Syria’s expectations.
The American president did not even address the Syrian demand to discuss the Golan Heights, and added insult to injury by demanding that foreign elements refrain from interfering in Lebanon and allow its citizens to elect a president without any pressure and live in a democracy, free of threats. Abbas mentioned Syria among the countries that Israel should be reaching a deal with, but he did it as a side-note. Olmert almost completely ignored Syria, aside from an indirect allusion, when he called for peace with “all Arab states to the north and south.” This is not what Assad was hoping for when he sent his deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, thus risking a clash with his supporters in Teheran.
There is no doubt that Bush’s speech, at least media-wise, reestablished the United States’ senior status in the Middle East. He read the joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration and promised to ensure that both sides will not evade serious, ongoing negotiations and meet their duties as outline in the Road Map initiative. He also added a temptation by pledging that his country will use its economic resources and international influence in order to offer material support to the implementation of the agreement to be reached by Olmert and Abbas. Bush presented a simple equation: A state for the Palestinians in exchange for security for Israel.
Olmert has good reason to be satisfied with this speech, which did not include any hint or component that could place him in conflict with his coalition partners. Abbas too cannot complain, because the American President’s speech could not have embarrassed him in any way. The opposite is true: In Annapolis, Bush crowned him as the Palestinians’ only legitimate representative and promised to personally ensure that Israel will not waste time during talks.
Emotional pleasYet Bush did not make do with that: His speech included an indirect yet clear reference to all regional problems. In an indirect but clear manner, he demanded that Arab leaders back Abbas, isolate Hamas and Hizbullah, and show determination in the struggle against radical Islam. At the same time, in order not to embarrass his guests, some of whom have close ties with Iran, he refrained from explicitly mentioning Teheran.
While the American president spoke like a practical leader, a “master” who delegates tasks to his allies and makes demands of them, Abbas and Olmert chose to emphasize the emotional aspect. The Palestinian leader warned against missing an opportunity that may not return and against the bloodshed that may result should this opportunity be missed. He also addressed his people emotionally and promised that the end of their suffering is around the corner.
Abbas also directly addressed the Israeli people and asked that they support concessions to the Palestinians. It seemed he was attempting to reconstruct the turnaround in Israeli public opinion that followed the historic speeches of Egyptian President Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein. Of course, he didn’t forget to demand a prisoner release, the removal of roadblocks, the freezing of settlement activity, the dismantlement of illegal outposts, and the reopening of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Yet his tone was to-the-point and devoid of any accusations and provocations.
Olmert replied with gestures: Official recognition of the Palestinian people’s suffering, a pledge to freeze settlement activity and to dismantle outposts, and more “painful concessions.” There were no surprises in the speeches of both leaders, which is an American success in and of itself.
Most importantly: In Annapolis, the Bush Administration managed to set a new course for reaching Israeli-Palestinian peace. Instead of waiting for the sides to fulfill their obligations and then embark on final-status negotiations, they will quickly and seriously discuss the agreement, but implement it only after they meet the tasks outlined by the Road Map. This model is fully in the spirit of the strategy formulated by Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Now, this strategy was granted the widest possible regional and international approval.
Now, all that is left is to see whether this strategy can be implemented on the ground. A required condition for this is that Abbas and Olmert, separately and together, are able to overcome domestic obstacles. This is a mission that is no less difficult than overcoming all “core issues” combined. Therefore, it is too early to even start assessing whether anything practical will come out of Annapolis.