There are many reasons to be skeptical about this week’s Middle East conference hosted by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland — not least of which is the seven years of utter disinterest shown by the Bush administration. Without active U.S. involvement, the problems that fester in that troubled region have only intensified. But tempting as it is to dismiss the meeting out of hand, it could prove to be more than a mere photo op: An unprecedented number of players did attend, and a concerted effort by them all could provide a foundation for a peace deal.

Since taking office, U.S. President George W. Bush has been less than engaged in the Israel-Palestine conflict. His distance was the product of thinking that his predecessor, President Bill Clinton, had squandered U.S. power, prestige and influence by becoming deeply involved in peace talks without making any progress. Mr. Bush did not trust former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and was very sympathetic to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, before he was incapacitated by a stroke. Mr. Bush believed that the invasion of Iraq would so shift the regional balance of power that holdouts would be forced to make peace with Israel and intransigent states like Syria and Iran would be marginalized and isolated.

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