Today the world press is full of pundits declaring the failure of Annapolis and the probability that nothing will come of the peace conference. Voices in the Arab press, the Israeli press, the American press all seem to share this view. At least we can all agree on this much even if we don't agree on who to blame. All sarcasm aside, I do share this view in the near term, at least as far as any practical accomplishments are concerned. Having said that, Prime Minister Olmert and President Bush did accomplish something important at Annapolis.
For the first time since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 all of the Arab countries sat around a table with Israel and talked about peace. They all acknowledged peace between the Palestinians and Israel as a goal to achieve. This is a far cry from the aftermath of the Six Day War and the statement of the Arab League summit in Khartoum in 1967 with it's famous three no's: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it". By attending the Annapolis conference the entire Arab world did give tacit, though not official, recognition of Israel and the fact that Israel is likely to exist for the foreseeable future. They also endorsed continued negotiation and a final outcome of peace.
Israel has been at war with at least some of it's Arab neighbors for nearly 60 years now. The Jewish people in British controlled Palestine were attacked by and forced to fight the Palestinian Arabs for nearly 30 years before that. Change in the Middle East comes slowly among people with long memories and histories. It took 30 years for Egypt to decide to negotiate with Israel and reach a peace agreement. Another 15 years passed before Jordan made peace with Israel.
Every step, no matter how minute, is cumulative. The Arab nations cannot change the fact that they sat down at the table with Prime Minister Olmert. President Bush, no matter what the eventual outcome, can take credit for helping to make that happen. It may be a small step, a tiny accomplishment. I do not expect a peace agreement next year as called for at Annapolis. Still, the small step taken at the conference in the long run may be seen as very important indeed.