Wanted: Mideast Conference

It feels like springtime in the Middle East. Diplomatic ice dams may be breaking up fast.

Peace feelers are floating between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Syria and Israel. With momentum like that, it's time to draw all the regional players together into an international conference, led by the US and Europe. That could make it easier for many Arab states and Israel to open bilateral talks and hammer out peace deals.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly has signed on to a meeting with Palestinian leaders in London in February, after the Palestinian presidential elections. Until now he's demanded that the Palestinian Authority crack down on terrorists first. He should reevaluate that demand since the likely winner of the election, Mahmoud Abbas, now calls the Palestinian armed struggle of the past four years a mistake. Mr. Abbas also wants to rein in the various Palestinian security forces and tone down anti-Israel incitement.

Such steps would boost the potential for success of an Israeli-Palestinian meeting in February, as well as a wider conference. Israel could help the process by removing illegal outposts on the West Bank and responding positively to Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent signal of hopes for renewed negotiations.

Whatever progress has come so far to the Middle East began at the 1991 international conference in Madrid. With a similar one now, more Arab nations might warm to Israel, and Israel could feel safe enough to give up land for peace - the ultimate bargain.

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