It looks like there will be a meeting, of sorts, at Annapolis. Participants and commentators are ranging between those who ridicule the performance as without hope, and those who say that it has the potential of endorsing continued conversations between Israelis and Palestinians that might, one day, become serious negotiations.
The ambivalence, inclined to pessimism, reflects the complex reality, made up of positive and negative possibilities.
In the nature of this business, it is not possible to weigh each of the positives and negatives, and come up with a persuasive balance. Those who go into such a meeting with hope have to take some chances, and those who go through the motions expecting nothing should know that their attitude might ruin the possibility of success.
Despite the problems in weighing the plusses and minuses, it may be helpful to list the most prominent of them. At the least, it may help an observer understand the efforts, as well as the reluctance of participants to make greater efforts. This exercise will not have the weight of a scorecard at a sporting event, filled with the statistics associated with each player and team. In politics there is no such exactitude. But here we go.
These calculations, for what they are worth, are entered from an Israeli perspective. Palestinians can do their own work.
On the positive side of the ledger, or the reasons for Israelis to make an effort at reaching an accord, or at least advance the prospects for later negotiations that may be successful:
Israeli efforts will enhance the support the country receives from well intentioned other governments.
Signs are that individual Palestinian leaders have concluded that their armed struggle has failed, and that achieving a state alongside Israel is their best chance for international recognition, aid, and reasonable standards of living.
There is substantial support among Israeli Jews for trying, once again, to reach an accord with the Palestinians, as well as with the governments of Syria, Lebanon, and other Arab/Muslim governments. Israelis crave for recognition, as well as opportunities to travel to places so far denied to them. A political leader can probably find enough support in the Knesset to approve whatever deals are made to recognize a Palestinian state, and to reach agreements with Syria and Lebanon.
Israeli efforts to reach an agreement with Syria, for example, might spur Palestinians to a posture of greater flexibility out of fear that they might be left behind.
Support from the government of the United States, as well as current governments of Germany, France, and Great Britain, may be sufficient to buffer Israel against continued hostility from other international sources.
Israel will remain strong militarily. If a peace with Palestine goes bad, as in the case of Oslo 1993, the IDF can return Palestine to the Dark Ages. If Israel once grants recognition to a Palestinian state, its attack against armed Palestinians may actually may be viewed as more legitimate than at present among important other governments.
If an agreement is reached with Syria, the record of agreements with Egypt and Jordan indicate that Arab governments keep their agreements and guard their borders with Israel against violence originating on their soil. The weakness of Lebanon as a regime is less promising.
On the negative side of the ledger, or the reasons for Israelis to go through the motions only for the sake of not embarrassing the President of the United States:
Nothing that Israel attempts is likely to satisfy the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, or the numerous other bodies and governments stacked against Israel.
The intense rejection of Israel, fueled by religious fervor, is not likely to be quieted by any kind of agreement. Moreover, the record until now is that Palestinian leaders are reluctant to act against those whose violence against Jews is motivated by religious or nationalist doctrine.
There is substantial distrust of Palestinian intentions, both among the Israeli Jewish public, and among Israeli Jewish politicians. Emotional issues like the division of Jerusalem, control of the Temple Mount, withdrawal of settlements in the West Bank, the return of Palestinian refugees, or the freedom of Palestinian prisoners convicted of killing Jews, can scuttle any effort at reaching agreement about the establishment of a Palestinian state.
There are no hopeful signs that Palestinian leaders are inclined to give up demands that have heavy emotional weight with their people, and which have equally negative emotional baggage with Israeli Jews. These include the right of refugees to return, exclusive Palestinian control of the Nobel Sanctuary (Temple Mount), and the freedom of Palestinian "prisoners of war," who are murderers or terrorists in the eyes of many Israelis.
Gaza is the bad half of Palestine, in the firm control of those who reject the legitimacy of Israel's existence. The leaders of Gaza continue to arm themselves with the tacit cooperation of the "moderate" government of Egypt, and do what they can to scuttle peace prospects with missiles, mortars, and attempted armed incursions into Israel. It is hard to imagine that peace negotiations with the Palestinians of the West Bank can survive a serious Israeli military attack on Gaza, if it occurs.
Politics in important places are subject to change. A liberal Democratic administration in the United States, and/or changes in the complexion of governments in Germany, France, and Great Britain may leave Israel exposed to intense opposition from other sources, including the threats of political isolation, economic sanctions, and even military intervention if Israel acts against violence from Palestinian or other Arab sources.
We should not overlook the weight of short-term political calculations and other pedestrian possibilities likely to affect great decisions. The current prime minister of Israel may see political advantages associated with a serious effort at reaching an accord with the Palestinians. To date, however, his numerous meetings with Palestinians have not permitted a accord in even the most general of terms. Signs are that Ehud Olmert cannot accept much of what seem to be non-negotiable Palestinian demands. Moreover, there are several police investigations underway against the Prime Minister, dealing with allegations of misconduct in offices that he has held.
If Olmert leaves office in the near future, there are too many combinations possible for even this fuzzy kind level of analysis for who might succeed him. It is not only a matter of who would be the prime minister, but what might be the make up of the Israeli government in the event of a reshuffle, or the Knesset in the event of an election.
In short, only God knows if we are on the verge of peace with Palestinians and others, or simply at another insignificant marker in the history of Israeli efforts to reach accords with its neighbors. And in the Jewish tradition, God has not spoken to anyone since the prophet Malachi, perhaps 450 BCE.