Annapolis gathering

I haven’t said much about next week’s Middle East meetings because, well, it certainly looks like it will just be a huge photo op. There doesn’t seem to have been any significant diplomacy in preparation, and there are 46 countries and international organizations coming. But hey, don’t take my word for it, apparently the Bush administration doesn’t see it as particularly important either:

In fact, Mr. Bush and his aides still deplore what they view as President Clinton’s disastrously hands-on involvement in the peace process in 2000. And they insist that Mr. Bush does not intend to negotiate personally the two-state peace he has pronounced as his vision . . . For all the pomp of the Annapolis gathering, the White House is not calling it a summit meeting or anything else suggestive of substantive progress. Mr. Bush’s vision is ambitious, but his strategy is cautious — he may be repeating Mr. Clinton’s role, yet he rejects what he sees as the meddlesome quality of it.

To call this “repeating” the role that President Clinton played is hyperbole, to say the least — while people can (and do) argue over particular Clintonian successes and failures, by all accounts he really, really knew his stuff when it came to Israel/Palestine issues. Down to the neighborhoods in Jerusalem, locations of settlements, etc. Somehow I don’t think Bush has quite the same command of the details.

In any case, though, there’s no real goal to the conference, the administration has ignored the issue for seven years, and it refuses to put any pressure on Israel, so it’s not like anybody has high hopes. On the other hand, one *can* hope that it goes well, because as with most diplomacy, baby steps are needed at the beginning. Perhaps this can set the stage for further movement in the coming years, especially if a Democrat takes office in 2009 (anybody want to guess who might be names Special Envoy to the Middle East in a Clinton administration?).

Finally, kudos to the Times for including this paragraph:

Mr. Bush’s aides often point out that in 2002 he was the first American president to declare support for a Palestinian state. That is true, but they fail to mention that he did so while refusing to negotiate with Yasir Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, effectively endorsing a deadly stalemate.

Far too often, that kind of ridiculous administration claim is allowed to pass without context of, y’know, the facts. Nice to have them in this instance.

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