Words apart

The leaders at Annapolis talked the talk but will they walk the walk?

I love words. I work with them; I play with them. I read them in newspapers over breakfast and in books under the bed-covers last thing at night. During most of the day, as my colleagues can testify, I talk a lot and I sing out loud. Lately, I found myself singing an old Israeli hit "Milim yafot lelo kisui," roughly translatable as "pretty words with nothing behind them." It must be those papers I've been starting the day with following the Annapolis parley. The speeches by the three major Annapolis protagonists - George Bush, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas - were, technically at least, a pleasure: well-crafted, with a nice rhythm and a good turn of phrase. Everybody said the right thing, and those who couldn't bring themselves to say anything nice - Syria, for example - shut up. True, there was nothing of the "I have a dream" quality provided by Martin Luther King. Nor Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, so universal that my Chinese-language class at the Hebrew University once translated it from Mandarin to the holy tongue, losing only a little of the power in the translation. Still, it was good to hear everyone talking of peace and the "dawn of a new age." It certainly beats talk of war. And the talk of the town - nay, the world - was the unexpected success of the summit meeting. Success being considered the very fact that the parley took place and nobody - not Iran nor its Hamas or Hizbullah proxies - spoiled the party despite the terror alert. The three leaders, strange political bedfellows though they might be, avoided dirty pillow talk, and sweet-talked each other without saying anything substantive. Admittedly, there was a declaration of intent: setting the goal to reach a peace agreement within one year by meeting regularly; discussing all issues; and committing "to immediately implement their obligations under the road map." But much of the rest was familiar. And indeed that was one of the remarkable aspects. As the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv noted, once upon a time the two sides would meet and negotiate and then sign an agreement. Now the trend is to issue a joint statement first and only afterwards to meet and try to solve the issues. I guess in this media-conscious world you need to have a photo opportunity while everyone is still on speaking terms, and who knows how long that is going to last? FOR PART of the problem is that what was not said is just as important as what was stated. All the Palestinian promises to fight terror we've heard before. Olmert said more than his predecessors about Palestinian suffering. Abbas did not return the favor. Indeed, he made it sound like the main reason for ending terrorism is not a moral one but to take away any excuse Israel might have for its actions. And there was one thing in particular that the prime minister didn't say, as Jerusalem Post news editor Amir Mizroch pointed out. While making the standard opening to his speech "I came here today from Jerusalem..." Olmert very noticeably failed to add the words that always followed when Ariel Sharon, for example, used to speak of Jerusalem: "the eternal and undivided capital of Israel." So what was the word on the street in Jerusalem? Interestingly enough, as the Post noted ahead of the gathering, Israelis rated the Annapolis peace summit as the lowest item on their list of concerns. According to a poll published on November 26 by the Knesset Channel, Israelis listed (in descending order): education, personal safety, the economy and the socioeconomic situation ahead of Annapolis. I'm surprised traffic jams didn't figure on the list. Life in the capital went on as normal, or what passes as normal when such conferences take place however far away: There were demonstrations supporting the parley; rallies against it; a major security alert because, unfortunately, we have discovered that talk of peace is usually accompanied by increased terrorist attacks; and traffic jams due to both the presence of protesters and the roadblocks set up to check suspicious vehicles. The atmosphere in Annapolis might have been one of what diplomats love to call "cautious optimism," but close to where the action is likely to take place the emphasis is understandably more on the "caution." As almost everyone agrees, Annapolis was just the starting point: Even if the parties concerned talked the talk, it has yet to be seen whether they will walk the walk. THERE WAS certainly something different about traveling on the No. 18 bus the afternoon before the summit. There were plenty of seats available. It turns out this was because of the red-hot alert rather than the dawn of a new age. The bus line targeted three times by Palestinian terrorists travels a route scarred by suicide bombers. Having got stuck in a security-related snarl-up, passengers started to chat and reminisce. The old joke about why you have to wait ages for the bus and then two arrive together was revived. (The black-humor answer: The buses are scared to travel alone.) Even those in favor of handing over certain areas to the Palestinians, and not many of them seem to travel on the No. 18, were concerned about the price of failure. A friend at a Shabbat meal heard a noise which suddenly reminded her of the days she moved into the Katamonim neighborhood amid the sound of the shooting from Palestinian Beit Jala onto Jewish Gilo. The leaders who traveled to Annapolis might have found someone to talk to but it is highly questionable whether they will be heard at home. Israelis are divided on the Jerusalem issue. A new media campaign, "Jerusalem above all else," is calling to preserve the unity of the capital. Its radio ads declare: "Every country has its own undivided capital: France has Paris; Britain has London, and we have Jerusalem." Although with Muslim race riots raging - again - in Paris, the French capital has lost some of its chic as far as this Jerusalemite is concerned. The campaign is also calling for supporters to sport a gold ribbon, but so far Jerusalem of Gold remains a metaphor. Perhaps most Jerusalemites feel that all the talk was just a spin and anyway with the Hanukka holiday almost upon us, 'tis the season of miracles. And it would take a miracle, most experts agree, for Abbas to succeed in imposing any kind of agreement on Hamas, which controls Gaza. In short, the last word on Annapolis has yet to be said. I'm not optimistic but dream of being proven wrong. I would be happy to sit down to breakfast this time next year with newspapers reporting on real peace - and eat my words.