Who will save Annapolis?
To save Annapolis, Condoleezza Rice needs Assad. Abbas will be of no use to her, and Olmert will make way for others.
In the following sentences there will not be the slightest mention of the criminal investigations into Ehud Olmert. There will be no discussion on whether someone really believes that a prime minister under so many suspicions will manage to get foreign leaders to risk their political assets on him.
Let us assume that in a few days the attorney general decides to close the Bank Leumi case, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss retires (and Shula Zaken takes his place), Accountant General Yaron Zelekha is exiled to Devil's Island, and the policemen who sniffed around at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the house on Cremieux Street die of boredom. All of Olmert's sins will be washed clean and he will be free to focus on diplomatic negotiations.
Then what? There is no chance for real success at Annapolis, where strong leaders are needed to rally their people - either by conviction or force - behind the deal they reach. Olmert has never enjoyed the kind of public confidence needed to lead a decisive diplomatic process. During the elections for the Knesset, he received less than a quarter of the votes, and that is still his level of support, to be generous. The majority really important to him comprises two of the three judges in the panel that will deliberate the charges against him at the Jerusalem District Court, if he is prosecuted. But we have already said we will not talk about that here.
There has never been an Israeli-Palestinian summit that ended quietly. They gather for the sake of keeping up appearances, so as not to upset the Americans, and they break up quickly when they have to deliver. All the Cairo conferences, Sharm el-Sheikh, Taba, Wye Plantation, Camp David, and so on, were short-lived. If we rely on precedents, like they do in the law - which is not being discussed here in any way - the chance for success at the next conference in this series is zero. Of course, we should not despair, but on this President Shimon Peres would say that an illusion does not constitute a working plan.
Salvation for Annapolis can only come from a single direction - the Arabs, not the Palestinians. Conferences where Israel and Arab states participate boast a much better list of achievements than conferences focused on the Palestinian question. For example, if there is a wish to bring Saudi Arabia closer to normal relations with Israel, it is possible to include in the Annapolis agenda the possibility of assigning it (alongside Jordan) a role as protector of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Especially productive can be the inclusion of Syria in the conference. President Bashar Assad's announcement that he will not come to the conference if there is no discussion on the Golan Heights caused Jerusalem to sigh in relief, instead of sounding positive with a call to restore at Annapolis negotiations with Syria. Real leadership aspiring to achieve peace would have jumped at the opportunity and would have used the support of the chief of staff and his advisers - the Military Intelligence chief and other senior defense officers.
There was no urgency to carry out the air strike in Syria on September 6. As far as the threat facing Israel was concerned, it would have been possible to wait for a time safely distant from concerns that war would break out in the summer. Beyond the threat itself, it seems the decision to rush stemmed from doubts about safeguarding the secret.
But the minute the operation was carried out, and Assad's reaction turned out to be one of restraint (at least so far), there are also advantages that the operation was carried out before resuming negotiations. Doing things the other way around would have caused a dilemma for Israel: facing a security threat versus responsibility for undermining a diplomatic process.
To save Annapolis, Condoleezza Rice needs Assad. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will be of no use to her, and Olmert will make way for those cleaner than he after he is forced from his seat for reasons we need not mention here.
Suffice it to say that Rice aide David Luna - director of the Anti-Crime Programs Division - announced last month with her blessing the start of an initiative against kleptocracy and high-level corruption - "a threat to the development and prosperity of nations."