About the only things on which Palestinians and Israelis agree as they head into this week's U.S.-orchestrated peace talks is their mutual love of falafel and belief the conclave at Annapolis, Md., will be little more than a photo op.
After creating disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Palestine, and fanning worldwide anger against America, President George Bush desperately needs a foreign policy success in the final year of his ill-starred term.
So the same White House fib factory that produced such hit science fiction epics as Saddam's Death Rays, Iran's Nukes Menace the Globe and Muslim Terrorists Under Our Beds has been ordered to churn out the pre-Xmas fantasy Bush Brings Peace to the Holy Land.
A bunch of U.S. clients has been dragooned into reluctantly appearing as spear carriers. The cast includes Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, Palestinian semi-leader Mahmoud Abbas, and delegations from U.S. Arab allies. Syria, which fears a joint U.S.-Israeli invasion, debated whether it was more dangerous to come or stay away. Great Satan Iran was not invited to Bush's Maryland clambake.
Israel's strategy has long been to talk about talks about peace while steadily continuing to expand by building settlements on the West Bank and the former Syrian Golan Heights. Israeli settlements and military bases now occupy over half the entire West Bank and its best farmland and water resources.
Arid land and squalid towns occupied by Palestinians form a giant outdoor gulag, reminiscent of the film Escape from New York, filled with misery, crime, 50% unemployment and malnutrition, surrounded by Israeli "security walls," checkpoints and hilltop settlements.
Abbas can't even control his own extreme factions that launch attacks on Israelis, never mind militant Hamas Islamists who lob rockets at Israel from that other open air prison, Gaza. Washington and Israel are trying to starve Hamas and Gaza into submission while building up the ineffectual, but obedient, Abbas, whom they engineered into power after PLO leader Yasser Arafat's mysterious death.
America's other Arab clients proclaim their support of Palestinian rights while secretly collaborating with Israel to thwart emergence of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank. Hamas' victory in free democratic elections in Gaza sent tremors of fear through the region's U.S.-backed monarchies and dictatorships.
Palestinian Mini-State The Bush administration's goal is to get Olmert to agree to a feeble Palestinian mini-state made up of tiny cantons isolated by Israeli-only roads, led by U.S. and Israeli appointed yes-men who will keep their more volatile compatriots in line.
But even this political Potemkin Village faces fierce opposition. Olmert, still reeling from his fiasco in Lebanon last year, is already under heavy fire from Israel's powerful right wingers and their U.S. neocon supporters not to cede an inch of Biblical Israel.
Equally important, as election year nears, U.S. Republicans and Democrats are vying to support the hardline positions of Israel's expansionist right, ignoring the 50% of Israeli voters who support a real land for peace deal.
As one of Israel's finest thinkers, Uri Avnery, notes, "the Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished." Failure to fully support Israel is the fifth rail of American politics.
This means Bush will be most unlikely to put any pressure on Israel to create a viable Palestinian state.
The only peace plan that would work is being ignored: Return to Israel's pre-1967 borders with some rectifications; sharing Jerusalem; dealing with millions of homeless Palestinian refugees; and, eventually, regional nuclear disarmament.
Nothing will happen without U.S. pressure. But Bush won't seize the last chance to do some good for the world though, as a lame duck president, he could at least try. Israel is happy with the status quo.
The Palestinians are too weak and divided to alter it, the other Arabs too frightened and selfish to press for a solution to the world's biggest international headache.
Eric Margolis is a regular columnist for the Toronto Sun.
© 2007 The Toronto Sun