WASHINGTON – Judging by Hillary Clinton's facial expression when she announced the launching of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, we can certainly expect a sour summit in Washington.
None of the guests who will be sitting around President Obama's table on September 1st will be bringing along a new message, lofty inspiration, or a hint of excitement. None of them will genuinely reach out for peace, but rather, only offer a clenched fist that had been opened for a moment, due to circumstances and pressure.
In short, nobody is feeling a sense of history in the making in the Middle East or in Washington. Hence, the summit is expected to feature people who were dragged there, rather than bold leaders.
Netanyahu knows well that he did not win, even though Washington accepted his position and called for the resumption of direct talks with no preconditions. The moment he agreed to discuss all core issues – Jerusalem's status, borders, and the refugee problem – the word "preconditions" lost its meaning. These will be inherently presented in the first working session between the sides.
With or without preconditions, Netanyahu will have to decide whether he is willing to partition Jerusalem and evacuate at least 50,000 settlers. That's the whole story.
Mahmoud Abbas faces the same situation, in reverse: His demand for preconditions was not accepted. At the same time, he knows well that Obama did not invite him for dinner in order to discuss the organic vegetables grown by Michelle. Both Abbas and Netanyahu know why they are coming and what is required of them, and both of them know that none can deliver the goods. Yet when Obama invites you for dinner, you don't refuse.
Poor US track recordIn the past 32 years, Washington and its environs did not provide the Middle East with new, promising starts.
Bill Clinton closed himself up with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in Camp David, and came out of there angry, without getting even half of what he wanted.
In Shepherdstown, about a two-hour drive from Washington, Clinton arranged all the conditions so that Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa would be able to finalize a peace treaty. At the Shabbat candle-lighting ceremony, Barak summoned his associates for a night of singing. Of all the songs in the world, they chose one about the Hermon Mount. The Syrian delegation listened stunned, one of its members translated the words, and two days later the Syrians packed their bags. There must have been other reasons, but the above episode was etched in the memory of all participants.
Madeleine Albright's attempts to secure an agreement between Netanyahu and Arafat at Wye Plantation failed as well. The agreement signed by Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn, under Clinton's patronage, was secured without US help and without its knowledge, until the final phase. Only after securing the deals in Oslo, the parties gave Washington the honor of hosting the ceremony.
President George W. Bush also failed to elicit more than a meaningless ceremony in Annapolis that did not continue anywhere. In fact, ever since President Carter secured a peace treaty between Begin and Sadat, Washington has merely been pushing, encouraging, lauding, and often reprimanding, yet not really sticking its hands in the Mideastern mud, and not pitting the parties against each other until a solution is found.
Obama hesitated before he agreed to host the summit at his home. He did not want to pose for photos of failure. Yet the moment he decided to offer his guests the delicacies of the White House chef, he has only one way to turn the tide: Place his peace plan on the table, and start to exert pressure in all directions.
He can certainly do it, yet the question is whether he truly wants to.