Those claiming to see signs of a plausible peace process in the events that began at Annpolis on Tuesday are clutching at straws. You only have to look at the joint declaration adopted by the Israeli and Palestinian sides under U.S. prodding to see why: As I wrote on TIME.com today, if it looks a little implausible that the Likudniks of yore (Olmert and Livni) are now sitting down to discuss the Camp David agenda with the PLO, that’s because they know they’ve reason to expect the discussion to be anything more than academic. The key statement in the declaration adopted at Annapolis, however, is in its concluding paragraph: “Implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.”
The process launched at Annapolis really has no greater real-world meaning than the one conducted in Geneva by Yossi Beilin and company. It’s about a political “horizon,” a set of hypotheticals that can only come into play once the “roadmap” is completed. The Roadmap, of course, requires Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle Hamas. Fat chance. And the Israelis know it better than anyone — Olmert reassured Israelis straight after the conference that Abbas is weak and ineffective. In other words, this whole process is hypothetical.
Taking down Hamas and uniting “moderates” against “extremists” is the purpose of the Annapolis process, not moving the Israelis and Palestinians, and the wider region, closer to peace. As I concluded in the TIME.com piece, “the strategic thinking behind the Annapolis initiative has less to do with the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations than with the wider regional situation: an effort to resolve differences in what the U.S. considers to be the anti-extremist camp in the Middle East in order to strengthen its anti-Iran front. But if that is the goal, Annapolis could as easily inflame the region as calm it.”
In fact, though, I think Annapolis itself was kind of a wake for a political order in the Middle East that has passed. Pax Americana quite simply no longer prevails, and those gathered at Annapolis were mostly the regimes most dependent on it, desperately trying to revive it although they can’t really hide from the fact that Washington no longer has either the will nor the capacity to take the steps required to stabilize the region. The future of the Middle East, right now, is well and truly unwritten. (More on this soon…)