When Mme. Albright became desperate she clutched onto the Israelis and squeezed them to rescue the Clinton administration from its embarrassments. All you have to do is read the 9/11 report to see the extent of despair and the blighted hopes that put Ehud Barak in captivity.

Now, the Bushies are looking down the last corridor of their disastrous tenure in the White House. And, instead of Madeleine, Condi Rice is performing the emergency room ablutions, this time also on the peace process that somehow, like in Clinton's time from Oslo to Camp David, seems never to proceed.

In a day or two, I'll write my own full prognosis for the Annapolis happening. It occurred to me, however, that, like the proceedings on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, the Naval Academy proceedings might also end on an optimistic note. No one has an incentive to displease the secretary or her president. But if, for example, Saudi Arabia is not present it will be very difficult to pretend that anything much has happened among the Arabs. Still, odds are that they will pretend.

Whatever the optimistic closing words of the conference, there will be a declaration of some formula for a Palestinian state when there is one reality for which no agreement can compensate. Forget for the moment the fissure between the Gaza Palestinians and the West Bank Palestinians, the Jerusalem Palestinians and the tribal Palestinians. So back to the one reality, and it is this: The Palestinians have, in nearly a hundred years of Jewish self-government (that is, going back almost 40 years before Israeli independence), not once established and secured a single national institution on the land they want as their own. This is a fatal flaw, and it cannot be overcome by abracadabra.