You're going to read a lot over the next few days about Bush's courage in tackling the Middle East peace process.
Keep in mind that this issue was supposed to be settled with the establishment of a stable democracy in Iraq, that Iraq's neighbors would somehow, mirabile dictu, gaze in wide wonder at the sight of the Sunni lions lying with the Shi'a lambs, beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more, accepting Israel as brethren in Abraham.
Yea, how's that working out?
So, in Annapolis today, we see the start of phase two of Bush's foreign policy: If you can't beat 'em, bore 'em.
Mr Bush said in prepared remarks ahead of the Maryland conference that the aim of the meeting was to launch talks, not conclude an agreement.(parenthetically, I wonder if this was how he pulled Gentleman C's in college and grad school: waiting until the last possible minute, then cramming?)
Mr Bush is hoping to find a solution before he leaves office in early 2009.
In remarks prepared for delivery to the diplomats and representatives from more than 40 countries and international organisations, Mr Bush said the goal of creating a Palestinian state to co-exist in peace alongside Israel would not be easy....except that Hamas was distinctly not invited to the meeting, and Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, which for all intents and purposes is the major sticking point to a dual state in the region.
"Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity," Mr Bush said in the statement released by the White House.
"And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbours."
In fairness to Bush he is downplaying the importance of this summit, but his true ambitions are obvious from the fact that over 40 interest regional and world leaders are sitting in on the talks, including China, Russia and much of the EU. He's not doing this just to talk about talks about talking.
Had this been 2003, and we were not tied up in a horrible invasion of Iraq, I'd give him a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding. I simply don't see how a rushed solution to problems that have existed for thousands of years is going to be either effective or long-lived. The enormous pressure he can bring to bear on Israel and some of the surrounding nation-states can make them bend to his will, grudgingly, but to get the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, to agree to terms is beyond ludicrous.
They're not stupid. They have calendars, and they know Al Gore won the Peace Prize this year, so they understand Bush's self-aggrandisement in this matter and the urgency he is under. They'll ask the moon, and when they don't get it, they'll stomp their feet and lob a few shells into Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
I expect there will be lots to talk about before they even get to the peace process:
1) Three Gazans die in Israel strike
2) US fire kills Iraq bus passengers
3) Putin says US behind poll boycott
Given Bush's history in foreign affairs, things will deteriorate to the point where he could have done better by steering clear of the entire situation.
And we'll pay that tab, too, when the time comes.