Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.
Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)
Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.
Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.
Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.