Just like Waldo, U.S. President George W. Bush is nowhere to be seen. But unlike the "Where's Waldo" books, where all you have to do to spot the character in question do is look closely and maybe turn the book around, in the case of Bush the situation is much more serious. The president is not in the picture.
All that's left from the Annapolis Conference and from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's vacation trips is the faded logo of the "peace process." It alone can serve to remind us of what was once there.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still meet, like two old men at the doctor's office who meet up to chat before returning home for their afternoon nap.
In the doctor's waiting room is a sign promising that soon, this will be the location of a new branch of the peace process. The identity of the contractor for that process remains to be determined - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John McCain - but learned analyses of the two questions, "which one would be best for Israel" and "who would advance the peace process" are already flying around. These are two separate questions.
There's also a new advertising slogan. Change. The mere sound of the word sends a slight shudder down the national spine. Change from what? And to what? The questions abound when the person talking about change is Obama, who is perceived as having the potential to change the attitude of the White House and the administration into being more critical of Jerusalem. In other words, he would be more for peace.
Clinton carried the very same threat, especially for those who fear that the process toward peace might actually develop, heaven forbid, into a peace process. After all, Clinton comes from the family that brought the world the Oslo Accords.
The anxiety, it can be said, is unwarranted. The Bush administration, labeled "the best U.S. administration that Israel has ever had," went no further than drawing lines in the sand with regard to Israeli violations of human rights. It failed to bring about the dismantling of West Bank outposts or a significant reduction in the number of roadblocks. Washington sentenced itself to silence over the closure that Israel has imposed on Gaza, and did not become alarmed when it learned that Israel is making a mockery of its obligations.
Last week, Rice spoke of being frustrated by Israeli policy. Her aide, David Welch, said during a Quartet meeting that the U.S. "was not comfortable with Israel's approach to Gaza." Alas, the superpower is uncomfortable and frustrated, but it is also slothful.
What can we expect from a new president, whose sights will be set on being reelected as soon as the inauguration is over? Can we expect a clash with American Jewry prompted by instructing Israel to divide Jerusalem? Will he or she tape together the shredded road map?
Speaking last week on condition of anonymity, the leader of a major U.S. Jewish organization said that goal of these organizations is to get the administration and Congress to support the policy of any democratically elected Israeli government.
Even the Jewish public, which is supposed to be concerned about the character of the "Jewish refuge" recuses itself from addressing Israeli policy, citing the convenient argument that since American Jews do not risk their lives by living in Israel, they do not have the right to voice an opinion on Israeli policies.
Never mind the validity of that argument. What's matter is that every U.S. presidential candidate can count on winning the Jewish vote as long as he or she extends blind support for Israeli policy, whatever it might be.
There is a common assumption that Israel's peace policy is designed more to appease Washington than to achieve real peace. If not for U.S. pressure, Olmert would not have met with Abbas. This cuts both ways: If Bush did not oppose the prospect, Israel would now be deep in negotiations with Syria.
The premise is amply demonstrated each time a senior U.S. official comes to visit. Like excited hamsters in their exercise wheel, a frenzied running begins, as if peace must genuinely be achieved by the end of 2008, or at the very least as if the American reaction is to be feared.
This misleading premise has been in operation for far too long. Look closely at the picture of Israeli-Palestinian reality. Washington isn't in it.
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