What happened
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged on Tuesday to start negotiating a possible peace agreement next month aiming for a two-state solution by the end of 2008. Leaders of 16 Arab League nations were on hand at the Annapolis peace summit, suggesting broad support for the new talks. (Chicago Tribune)

What the commentators said
Nobody expected the Annapolis “confab” to amount to anything more than a photo op, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration), but the “pressure to be seen to do something” was apparently too great to resist. The “joint understanding” was no breakthrough, but it at least puts the creation of a Palestinian state, and peace, back on the table.

“Skepticism is always warranted” on the topic of Mideast peacemaking, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post (free registration), but “something real did happen in Annapolis.” The vague wording of the joint document suggests both sides intend to discuss even “the two deal-breakers”—Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees—so “a peace process, with all its ambiguity and occasional sophistry, is underway.”

Moderates in the region are finally “getting their act together a little,” said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times (free registration). But so far they seem only motivated by fear of extremists. The day when “you pick up the newspaper and see Arab and Israeli moderates doing things that surprise you, and you hear yourself exclaiming, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before!’ you’ll know we’re going somewhere.”

“By rolling up their sleeves and getting everyone back to the bargaining table,” said USA Today in an editorial, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have at least “taken a vital first step.”

The process is “so fragile,” said Scott MacLeod in Time.com’s Middle East blog, “and the main negotiators so politically weak,” that “a key question now is whether the anti-negotiations bloc—Hamas, but also Hezbollah and their Iranian backers—will play a spoiler role.”