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On the eve of the trip to the Annapolis summit, a penetrating debate was held at the Muqata on the question of whether Mahmoud Abbas should participate in the George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert show. At the last moment the Palestinians discovered that the Israeli prime minister had retracted his promise that the conference document would address at least one of the core issues specifically, and in a binding manner. The opponents said that they were tired of the Israelis' empty promises to dismantle roadblocks, evacuate outposts and be more generous about freeing prisoners. They warned that another fruitless peace gathering would be a disappointment that the Palestinian public would not be able to tolerate, and spoke about how Hamas would celebrate the farce in Annapolis. The argument that tipped the balance in the end was that without the conference in Maryland, there would be no donors conference in Paris. Economic distress overcame political distress.

Olmert cited political constraints as his excuse for refusing to mention the June 4, 1967 borders in the Annapolis declaration, and for refusing to commit to a time frame for concluding the negotiations. He explained that Avigdor Lieberman had threatened to take his party Yisrael Beitenu out of the government and to bring about early elections.

Ehud Barak could have said to Olmert something like: "With all due respect to Lieberman, I am your main coalition partner. If you are planning to miss this opportunity - we are out." Barak, as we know, did not open his mouth. In any case he does not believe in the power of Abbas and his colleagues in the Fatah leadership to achieve a final-status agreement.

Nor did the dovish wing of the Labor leadership protest the participation of their chair in the Annapolis show. Yuli Tamir, who came to politics from Peace Now, was busy with the teachers' strike and Ami Ayalon, who came from the Ayalon-Nusseibeh peace agreement, was busy preaching in favor of a military operation in Gaza. The opposition members Yossi Beilin and Haim Oron, who experienced the pre-Annapolis contacts between Olmert and Abbas at first hand, swallowed their tongues. The Meretz leadership (with the exception of Zehava Gal-On) gave the prime minister the support of the Zionist left at a bargain price. It made do with a general promise that the core issues that had been filtered out of the summation document of the Annapolis conference would be discussed in the negotiations that are supposed to begin in its wake.

It turns out that the Zionist left finds it easier to fulfill its mission when it is confronting leaders who are loyal to the platform of the right, than when it is confronting right-wing prime ministers who are willing to mention the word "occupation." It was easier to attack Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu for building "permitted" settlements than to demand that Ariel Sharon stop destroying the Palestinian Authority and to demand that Olmert dismantle "forbidden" outposts. Why make an issue of these "petty" matters when the former Likud members were evacuating Gaza and becoming friendly with Mahmoud Abbas?

We should not, of course, ignore the fact that Olmert had to go a long distance from his Revisionist background in order to warn that a continuation of the occupation would lead to apartheid and to the end of the Jewish state. Words said by a leader are of significance. But the Israeli peace camp should have learned from its experience in the Barak government that talk about peace, without actions of peace, can end up with an intifada. The people behind the Oslo accords in the Labor Party turned a blind eye to Barak's many mistakes when conducting relations with the Palestinians: from the preference for the Syrian channel to the defective preparations for Camp David. The Meretz ministers gave him a big break when it came to the policy of the settlements and human rights in the territories.

Has anyone heard that Labor and Meretz are demanding that the prime minister fulfill his commitment to the Americans to evacuate outposts? Why do they believe that a prime minister who violates official promises that his government made to the U.S. president will keep his word to conduct accelerated negotiations over Jerusalem? Why can Lieberman, the representative of the right, threaten Olmert that if the negotiations on the core issues reach an advanced stage, he will be forced to part from him, while a representative of the left cannot make a similar threat, conditioning its participation on progress in the peace process?

The ultimate excuse, the doomsday weapon, "What do you want, Bibi [Netanyahu]?" cannot serve forever as the fig leaf of the Zionist left. Even if they provide Olmert with a refuge, a failure in the negotiations with what remains of the Palestinian peace camp (and/or the results of the Winograd report) will bring Netanyahu back to power. Sooner or later.