ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Annapolis summit is the pinnacle of the process that started in the Middle East with the Second Lebanon War, and possibly even before that, with the revolution in the Gaza Strip.

The summit in the U.S. will perpetuate the rift exposed in the Arab and Islamic world since that war - between the extremist camp lead by Iran, and the more moderate Sunni camp lead by Saudi Arabia.

This does not mean that the pragmatic Sunni-Arab stream has turned into Israel-loving Zionists overnight; far from it.

The Saudis came to Annapolis after much deliberation, as Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said. They showed up not because they love us, but because they hate the Iranians more.

The Saudis have no wish to normalize relations with Israel or even to shake hands with the Israelis. On Monday, Saudi embassy officials did not hesitate to throw out every last Jewish Israeli journalist who tried to cover the Arab foreign ministers meeting - while Israeli Arab reporters were allowed to stay. Who says there is no discrimination?

But the Arab countries' lukewarm statements concerning Israel are really only lip service to soften up public opinion back home. Sitting in the same hall as Israelis is not a trivial matter, but in the fight against Tehran over the future of the Middle East, even such an act has become kosher, as far as Riyadh is concerned.

Until a few months ago, Saudi Arabia was considered the Islamist Palestinian organizations' best friend, but now it is finding itself serving as their punching bag - on Iranian orders.

After falling out with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Riyadh is leading the Arab side at Annapolis and will therefore suffer heavy criticism from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"What is happening at Annapolis is a Arab-Zionist carnival for Israel's 60th [anniversary] celebration," said Islamic Jihad secretary general Ramadan Shallah. "The goal of the meeting is to lay the foundation for eliminating the Palestinian question with Arab blessings, in particular from Saudi Arabia."

The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, added: "I object to the participation of several Arab delegations that are set to appear for the first time alongside the Zionist delegation in Annapolis."

This criticism is not expressed against Syria - even though it also is participating in the summit, possibly because Damascus is continuing its two-faced game. Despite its attendance, Syria refuses to distance itself from the Iranian axis.

But in certain aspects, the summit might turn out to be the kickoff for a divorce between Syria and Iran. During the Lebanon war, the two countries' interests still overlapped. However, this may not continue after Annapolis.

The Bush administration, owing its ally Saudi Arabia a deep debt, can draw encouragement from the summit's legacy, which will signal the general process in the Middle East: distancing Arab states from Iran, while pushing Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad far away from the pragmatic Sunni circle.

But despite the rare optimism that broke out yesterday in Annapolis and the promises to finish negotiations on a permanent agreement by the end of 2008, peace is still a long way off.

The Saudis may have gotten what they asked for - a schedule for talks on a peace agreement - but the chances of seeing such a deal signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the White House lawn are unlikely to happen before the end of Bush's term, once the sides start their talks on the core issues, which seem impossible to solve.