Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Talks About Talks

It's a sort-of important week for the Middle East. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are among various interested folk invited to Annapolis for US-hosted talks aimed at reviving the peace process. Even Syria agreed at the last minute to turn up, although its decision to only send its deputy foreign minister demonstrates how little Damascus cares about the summit.

The changing attitude of President Bush is one main reason why these talks are happening. As with many presidents before him, not least Bill Clinton, he's turning his attention abroad in the final months of his time in office, in a bid to create something positive to remember him by. With Iraq likely to dominate any assessment of Mr Bush, he's going to have to produce something extremely special to knock that from the opening paragraph of his obituary. It's not entirely fair to say Bush has never taken much interest in the Israel/Palestine question - he's gone further than Clinton ever did in calling for a sovereign Palestinian state - but there's no doubt the last seven years have been pretty bleak for everyone involved.

Nothing much is going to improve at Annapolis. These really are talks about talks - a good outcome would be if everyone can agree the terms of future negotiations, and fix a date for those to take place. Only then can the big questions that generations of politicians have failed to solve - land-for-peace, security, Jerusalem - be put back on the agenda.

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