The accompanying story is an interesting, and thorough examination of the possible directions that the coming Annapolis Summit might take.
What is most heartening is that the Economist's writer has penned exactly the scenario for which I would hope. Starting with the idea that all of those involved - Olmert, Abbas, and to a much less extent Bush - have their hands tied to explosive political realities of their own there would seem to be even less likelihood of Annapolis being any more successful than Camp David (remember the new settlements?) or Oslo.
So what is needed? "How is about a new approach?" says The Economist.
...unless George W. Solomon turns up too
In this speech Mr Bush needs to set out forthrightly America's own plan for dividing Palestine. That would mark an historic change. In the past—in Madrid in 1991, for example, and at Camp David in 2000—the Americans asked the Israelis and Palestinians to thrash out their differences on their own. But they can't. The gap is too wide, and even when their respective leaders want to narrow it neither dares move towards the other for fear of the uproar from the ideological bitter-enders at home. The existence of an American blueprint that commanded international support would, however, immediately transform the political dynamic of both societies, fortifying the moderates and pushing the hardliners to the margins.
Although it would be too much to expect Mr Bush to unfurl a map at Annapolis, he could come quite close. For a start, he should make it clear that when America talks of a two-state solution, it has in mind a border based on the pre-1967 line. Three years ago Mr Bush said in a public letter to Ariel Sharon that it would be unrealistic to expect Israel to evacuate all the dense settlement blocks it has planted in the West Bank. Fine. But since most settlers live close to the old border, he can now tell Israel that it cannot keep more than a few percentage points—say 5% or so—of the West Bank, and that it must offer the Palestinians land from its own side in compensation. On refugees, Mr Bush should say, as Bill Clinton did, that their right to “return” should be exercised in the new Palestine and not in pre-1967 Israel: that is a bitter pill but it is the logic of a peace based on partition. And Israel too must accept a bitter potion: Jerusalem, the beating heart of both peoples, will have to be the capital of both.
If Mr Bush gives this speech, Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas will wax furious. They might agree with him in their hearts, but if only for domestic political consumption they will have to accuse the American president of setting an ambush, bullying the little guys, prejudging the final-status issues and riding roughshod over the views and rights of the people most directly affected. These fulminations can be safely ignored. Israel and the Palestinian territories alike are full of politicians who will tell you knowingly but off the record that only a deal along the lines described above stands the remotest chance of bringing permanent peace. It is high time the superpower and the rest of the world threw their weight behind such a plan. The photo-op at Annapolis may be just the place to do it.
I also will not hold my breath. The nature of the American electoral lobbies is such that GWB will be too conscious of the possible effects of such a move on the election of a Repub President in 2008.