Representatives from nearly 50 countries and international organizations will gather tomorrow in Annapolis in the most inclusive official international gathering on Middle East peace in years. President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will open the session with speeches and then participate in a working lunch hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Rice. Three afternoon sessions are planned for Tuesday on economic development, institutional reform, and capacity building, and a comprehensive peace, with follow-up meetings between President Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington on Wednesday.
Given the complex set of unresolved issues in the Middle East, no one expects a peace agreement to emerge from a single meeting, however impressive the turnout. But the fact of a meeting of this nature itself does matter; it demonstrates important international focus on critical issues that have deserved greater attention from a variety of players in the region, and from the Bush White House. It is no small achievement to gather such a diverse set of representatives from the Middle East, including countries that refuse to deal with each other bilaterally.
Now attention must turn to what will come from this gathering. It should set the stage for a reinvigorated launch of a process that works pragmatically to tackle the difficult daily issues on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians, and it should establish a process to address the core final status issues as well, without which ultimate resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be possible. The Annapolis conference represents a unique opportunity for a new beginning in the Middle East, and this week the Center’s Middle East Bulletin will be covering the conference closely in three editions published Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.