Jerusalem - As the Annapolis conference kicked into high gear, one Israeli reporter chose a more modest urban backdrop: the southern Israeli town of Sderot, its streets deserted for fear of Qassam rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza.
“Residents here know that no matter what happens, in the end they get Qassams falling on their heads,” said Yinon Magal of Channel 10 when asked whether the people in Sderot seemed interested in the Annapolis peace summit.
For all the hopeful rhetoric in Maryland, back in the Middle East, distrust and hostility showed their deep roots.
In Gaza, thousands of demonstrators who turned out for a Hamas rally chanted: “Death to Israel. Death to the United States.” In Jerusalem, some 15,000 Israelis descended upon the Western Wall to pray for the Annapolis conference to fail.
But for many mainstream Israelis, Annapolis held little interest, mostly because they saw the politicians’ declarations as offering barely any new material after a string of similar summits in recent years.
“Annapolis is a long way away, in every sense,” Jerusalem taxi driver Elazar Cohen said. “Olmert and Abbas want to give it a try? Great. But I don’t know anyone who’s hopeful.”
On the front pages of Israeli newspapers, stories about Olmert’s aims at Annapolis competed with opinion pieces that played down any chances of a diplomatic breakthrough.
While some in the region were buoyed by last-minute decisions by Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to join the Annapolis conference, few Israelis or Palestinians said they expected peace to come soon.
A TV survey conducted after Tuesday’s speeches at Annapolis found that just 15% of Israelis now expect a breakthrough in peace efforts with the Palestinians. Sixty-two percent of respondents to the Channel 1 survey predicted there would be more diplomatic stalemate, accompanied by an escalation in terrorism.
With Gaza in Hamas’s hands, some Israeli analysts said Abbas’s goal at Annapolis was more limited than comprehensive peace.
“As far as Abu Mazen is concerned, this is a process for salvaging the West Bank,” said Ehud Yaari, a veteran Israeli analyst of Arab affairs, using Abbas’s nickname. In the West Bank, Abbas’s security forces responded violently to anti-Annapolis demonstrations, killing one, wounding dozens and arresting scores of Hamas sympathizers.
Throughout the conference on the other side of the Atlantic, Israel’s countermeasures against Palestinian terrorists continued apace. On Tuesday in Gaza, Israeli forces killed three Palestinians, at least two of them Hamas gunmen, and Gaza rocket crews fired at least one rocket at the Sderot area.