President Bush's historic visit to Israel and the Middle East can only delay the inevitable disappointment.
Why? It follows the enormous anticipation of the Annapolis conference in late 2007 -- a conference the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe failed. Since then, the expectations of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as expressed in Annapolis, that an agreement can be ready in 2008, have proven to be naive and utterly unrealistic.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are well aware of the stakes; but, for domestic reasons, both are too weak to deliver a peace agreement that would spell unqualified success at Annapolis. Instead, both are looking for a formula that papers over their political difficulties and keeps the momentum going. They have therefore agreed to redefine Annapolis as a launching pad for intensive negotiations rather than a forum for the end game. For lack of choice, the United States is going along with the low-key approach. But the Americans remain keenly aware of the underlying regional issues that they were hoping the parley would help them shape.