Dismissed and derided from every quarter, laughed off as a lukewarm sham, the Annapolis peace summit has confounded many Middle East analysts merely by the prospect of its actually taking place.
It may be a ludicrous what-if to even contemplate the notion, but if the Annapolis summit actually amounts to more than a passing footnote in the history of this region, at least we'll know some of the reasons why.
1. The settlers expect it to fail.
The settlers, the canaries in the coal mine of the Israeli right, have not taken Annapolis seriously. They have waved it away as a desperate attempt by Olmert to divert attention from the myriad graft investigations which threaten him.
They ought to know better by now.
The settlers made precisely the same statements when Ariel Sharon first announced his plan for removing settlers and settlements from what the Gaza Strip. At the outset, the right as a whole failed to take Sharon seriously. This allowed the then-prime minister the opportunity to build crucial momentum for one of the most radical operations in Israel's long history of unlikely missions.
By the time the right mounted its dramatic, monumental counterattack, it was too late.
Now as then, the right is asleep at the switch. The fact that Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas' Eli Yishai still occupy chairs at Olmert's cabinet table is but one of the indications. Had they taken Annapolis seriously, they would have brought down the government long ago.
The right, spearheaded by the settlers, remains Israel's most potent force for scuttling government initiatives. They have been lulled into inaction, however, by their conviction that a post-disengagement Gaza of Qassams and Hamas rule has turned the Israeli public tide against all prospect of land-for-peace formulas. For their own sake, they might consider that one Sadat-like gesture on the part of Israel's enemies could send tens of thousands of settlers to new homes closer to the Green Line.
2. Hamas expects it to fail.
If Hamas had truly taken Annapolis seriously, it would have seen to it that the conference would not have taken place at all. Not only through violence, but through a high-power pressure campaign to persuade the Palestinian public that Annapolis is a betrayal of Palestinian interests.
As it stands, if Palestinians succeed in carrying out a terrorist attack during the summit, this will further cement Hamas' international pariah status as a sponsor and contractor of terror.
3. Ehud Barak expects it to fail.
Here is a man whose diplomatic instincts have proven as consistently ill-fated as his political ones. His inability to read other people -- and other peoples, such as the Palestinians -- is a true disability.
Alternate version: Benjamin Netanyahu and Yossi Beilin have both suggested that going to Annapolis was a mistake.
4. All experts expect it to fail.
When Middle East experts all seem to agree, let the reader beware.
For months this, there was across-the-board agreement that a war would break out this summer. It became something of a given that a war was inevitable, so much so that the only debates swirled around when it would begin, how long would it last, if Tel Aviv would be within rocket range, and who would join forces against Israel. Thank God for just that sort of human error.
5. The intifada was a failure.
The ideological sea change of the Second Intifada was the creation of a kamikaze messianism among many young Palestinian hardliners, who came to believe that a one-state solution was imminent, and that the single state would be a Islamist-oriented Palestine.
More than seven years on, however, the Palestinian national movement is a rudderless ship, taking on water. Hamas, which surprised itself with an election victory, has been unable to demonstrate decisive leadership, and is blamed by many for excesses of power, the most troubling of which was its brief civil war with Fatah.
The time that had always seemed to be on the Palestinians' side, is now fast running out. If Palestinians fail to act soon to take advantage of proposals like the Arab peace initiative, the one-state solution may turn out to be a sovereign Israel and no sovereign Palestine.
If, however, Fatah and Hamas can act with wisdom, the neglect that Annapolis symbolizes may be leveraged into a new momentum for statehood, and a search for creative solutions to agonizing problems.
6. The disengagement from Gaza was a failure.
It is not a stretch to suggest that most Israeli parents of army-age children and most families of IDF reservists are grateful that Israel pulled out of Gaza. Hence the original popularity of the disengagement concept.
But a central failure of the disengagement lay in its attempt to solve Israel's demographic problem without engaging the Palestinians. The unilateral nature of the plan, executed without a peace agreement with the Palestinians, granted a tacit victory to Hamas and, in subsequent Qassam attacks, undermined the entire land-for-peace concept.
Any further attempts to effectively and safely separate Israelis and Palestinians into two states will need to be made in the context of direct negotiations, backed by international guarantors and the support of the two peoples involved.
7. No one really likes Iran
Even Iran's allies can't bring themselves to fully trust the Islamic Republic. In the Muslim world, the bad blood between Iran and a host of brother states is oceanic in scale.
One of the best ways to fight Iran, would be to move toward solutions to Israel's remaining states of war with its neighbors, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and the Syrians. A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a step toward isolating Iran, the premier outside agitator in the long war over the Holy Land.
The Saudis know this, the Gulf states know this, and if they can bring themselves to put their spiritual and material influence to open and good use, peace light just stand a chance.
8. Syria is not convinced Annapolis will fail.
Damascus' decision to take part in the conference surprised a number of experienced Syria hands. Syrian declarations during the conference bear close study, as to the possibility that the Assad government received something from Washington in return for their attendance.
9. George Bush is desperate
If time is slipping away for the Palestinians, Bush's meter is running much faster. If his legacy is to be anything other than failure in Iraq and failure in Katrina, he will need to score a foreign policy coup - if not a finished achievement, then at least a change in direction that may reach fruition in the next administration.
Bush's speech at Annapolis may therefore be the key to the perceived success or failure of the conference. Should he break new ground - for example, if he becomes the first American president to openly declare support for a divided Jerusalem as the capitals of both Israel and an independent Palestine - he will be staking a claim to a quite different place in history.