No invitations have even been issued for the Bush administration's planned Middle East peace conference later this fall and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is already talking about "the day after."
Rice is back in Jerusalem for her eighth visit of the year as she tries to keep the conference on track and temper expectations.
After her first round of talks with Israeli leaders, Rice told reporters that the meeting in Annapolis (now expected to be held in late November or early December) would be "the beginning of a process, not a single point in time."
"That's extremely important," said Rice, "because the more they talk about the day after Annapolis that they are going to have to continue their work (towards) the establishment of a Palestinian state, the more likely they are to get to a place where they are more likely to end the conflict."
Rice wrapped up the evening by joining Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and former UK PM Tony Blair in delivering a keynote address to a high-powered Brookings Institution forum at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
The three tenors of the Middle East peace process performed different versions of the same song: The prospects for peace may not be good, but if we don't try, the moderates will lose to the extremists.
In his speech, Olmert described Annapolis as a "jumping-off point for continued, serious and in-depth negotiations which will not avoid any issue or ignore any division which has clouded our relations with the Palestinian people for many years."
After Annapolis, Olmert said Israel would "enter into vigorous, ongoing and continuing negotiations" with the Palestinian leadership led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
While Israel and the US oppose Palestinian demands for a firm timetable, Olmert said "there is no intention of dragging the negotiations on endlessly."
Rice followed Olmert by warning the academics and policy makers that extremists in the region could gain the upper hand if the US and Israel didn't work with the moderate Palestinian leadership to establish a Palestinian state.
"If we do not act now to show the Palestinians a way forward, others will show them a way forward," said Rice, who warned that the "moderate center will disappear forever" if they don't do something.
It all seems to be a long way of saying: We're not going to do much more at Annapolis than set the stage for future talks. And that means more time for frustration to grow, more time for the Bush administration window of opportunity to close, and more chances for the process to be derailed.
The fact that Rice hasn't issued invites yet for the summit is another indication that the Annapolis meeting will produce little of substance except perhaps a new kind of general road map for future talks. But, as is often said, people know what the deal will look like. The question is how to make it happen.
As Blair said tonight: "The final settlement is not hard to see - it's the house on the hill as it were. But the path to it is utterly flawed."