Give President Bush credit for trying, but the single success out of the Mideast summit he convened in Annapolis, Md., was that the meeting was held at all.
He cajoled 49 countries, including 12 Arab nations, to support a resumption of the full-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed, achingly close to success, at the end of the Clinton administration.
The two sides will formally resume those talks Dec. 12, but, frankly, the outlook is not terribly promising. The joint statement issued at the end of the one-day gathering was agreed upon only after extensive negotiations and largely confined itself to generalities. It omitted or glossed over the most serious differences.
The biggest differences — Jerusalem and the right of return — remain intractable. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem for a capital; the Israelis don’t want them to have any part of Jerusalem. The Israelis also don’t want to allow the return, even if it were logistically possible, of the Palestinians who fled or were forced out, many as long ago as 1948.
The two sides have been unable to accomplish a relatively straightforward, confidence-building first step — the dismantling of illegal Jewish settlements by the Israelis and the suppression of terrorism and terrorist organizations by the Palestinians.
Neither leader appears to have the political stature to pull off a controversial solution. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is politically unpopular and may not last in office. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lost control of Gaza to Hamas, which is opposed to any dealings with Israel.
And there is a powerful regional actor, Iran, that is clamoring for the talks to fail and willing to use its deep pockets to fund Hamas to see that they do.
The two sides committed to reviving, on an accelerated basis, Bush’s 2003 “road map” to peace, a phased plan of mutual steps, monitored by the United States, leading to a two-state solution.
The Bush administration, conscious that its legacy on foreign policy is pretty thin, wants to see the two sides arrive at that solution before the president leaves office. As difficult as that 13-month timetable is, it’s not impossible, but it will take a full-court press by Bush to get there.