In the Mideast, it takes three to tango

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem on Sunday, but nothing was resolved.

While both are coming to Washington, they are not meeting each other. But we hope their visits will be productive.

Making headway on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could surely do President Bush some good, especially before election season is in full swing. That is enough reason for Bush to put serious pressure on both parties, to ensure that they leave Washington at least accomplishing something.

The Israelis want the Palestinians to better rein in terrorist groups and seize their weapons. The Palestinians' demands are higher: They want the Israelis to halt expansion on existing settlements; remove settlement outposts that lack government approval; release prisoners, even those who have committed terrorist acts; stop building the security fence; and ease restrictions.

It's hard, if not impossible, to imagine that both leaders will agree to all of the above.

The most we can hope for is that Bush will promise the full participation of his administration. What makes the road map different from all the other peace proposals before it — which all have failed — is that the presence of a third party is mandatory.

And not only that, it has been the only formula so far to bring about a cease-fire agreement, and that alone is considerable. While violence has not totally ceased, it certainly has been curtailed in recent weeks.

We also can hope that having Abbas make the rounds in Washington, as opposed to Yasser Arafat, will be an improvement. The news that Abbas plans to meet with Jewish leaders is promising.

The bottom line, though, is that both parties have to want to reach an agreement, and we hope that is really the case. Because if it's not, no matter how involved Bush gets, the conflict will never see a resolution.