Gloom Before Annapolis

As the Annapolis summit looms, Muslim opinion on it appears to be sharply divided, and no one is particularly enthusiastic. The Syrians, after initially refusing to go, relented once the Golan Heights was placed on the agenda. The Saudis are going, but warned that they wouldn’t put up with any “theatrics” such as staged handshakes with Israeli officials. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, was unhappy with the Saudi decision. “I wish the name of Saudi Arabia was not among those attending the Annapolis conference,” he told the Saudi King Abdullah. “Arab countries should be watchful in the face of the plots and deception of the Zionist enemy.”

The Palestinians were also wary. Writing in the Palestinian Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, Ahmad Dahbur adduced as proof that “our feet are standing on solid ground” the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “refuses to sign the document the enemy is proposing” — apparently a reference to the call to the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Columnist Ali Jaradat, writing in another Palestinian publication, Al-Ayyam, declared that Annapolis was merely a gambit by the U.S. and Israel “to find a way out of most of their predicaments,” and made a dark prediction: “I think that the region is about to be hit by a storm and that the calm of Annapolis is deceptive.”

The press elsewhere in the Middle East was no more optimistic. “Syria,” opined Iz-Al-Din Al-Darwish in Tishrin, “does not have any illusions about what could happen because Syria is convinced that Israel does not want peace, and that the latter has been the main cause behind blocking the peace process for more than seven years.” Egypt’s Al-Akhbar warned of the risk of failure: “this will simply mean the failure of any future peace negotiations, which frankly means the failure of the US Administration.” The pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi said that the “conference will definitely fail because of the weakness of its participants from the Israeli and Palestinian sides represented by [Prime Minister] Olmert and President Abbas, as well as the host President Bush whose popularity has fallen…” Iran’s Jomhuri-ye Eslami stated: “It seems that the conference will not lead to any fruitful result or any important agreement,” and Resalat in the same country warned: “The Annapolis conference is like a fake picture, in which any kind of investment will definitely lead to a total defeat.”

The gloom was just as thick on the other side. Conservative activist David Horowitz predicted that “the Munich Bush and Rice have prepared for Israel in Annapolis will fail ultimately because the Palestinians are terrorists whose only path is violence and whose unwavering goal is genocide — the destruction of the Jewish state. Seventy percent of Palestinians support suicide bombing and seventy percent support Hamas. The other thirty support the Islamo-fascists of Fatah and their terrorist armies…” Youssef Ibrahim wrote in the New York Sun: “Clearly what will happen at Annapolis is that Mr. Bush, the man who promised modernity and democracy for the Middle East, will inaugurate it with a speech that will be quickly forgotten, then leave the grounds for the rest of the world to grumble over the next year about yet another American Middle East failure.” Columnist Ben Shapiro thundered: “Over and over again, Israel has tried to buy the love of its enemies by conceding territory. And over and over again, Israel has suffered the consequences of its foolhardy appeasement.”

The gloom on both sides came from the incompatibility of expectations. As historian Bernard Lewis put it in the Wall Street Journal: “If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed.” For the Muslim observers committed to the jihadist proposition that the Jewish state has no right to exist on what they believe to be Muslim land, no Israeli concessions at Annapolis will be enough. For the Israelis, any further surrender of land could make a tenuous security situation almost untenable. For Bush and Rice, this attempt at legacy-building looks like a longshot at best.

No wonder the gloom only increases as the summit approaches.