IN OTHER WORDS: A challenge

The invitations have been delivered and it looks as if there will indeed be US-led conference next week in Annapolis to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After six years of neglecting the issue, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are to be commended for finally trying. Just getting all the key players in the same room, however, assuming they can pull that off, will not be enough.

The Americans have not been getting anything close to the help they need. Many of the key Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia, spent weeks playing coy about whether they would attend and whom they would send. Finally, the Saudi foreign minister confirmed yesterday that he would be

there. It is no surprise that even moderate Arab leaders do not have much confidence in either Rice’s diplomatic skills or Bush’s willingness to press the Israelis to compromise.

To be credible, the conference needs to begin serious, detailed and sustained talks on the core issues: the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of refugees, the future of Jerusalem and a guarantee for Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Bush must demonstrate that he has a clear post-Annapolis strategy. A conference that withers away once the TV cameras leave Annapolis could be worse than no conference at all.