IN OTHER WORDS: Peace meet

There are many reasons to be skeptical about next month’s Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md. The political frailty of PM Ehud Olmert’s government, the fractured condition of the Palestinian Authority, the six years President Bush wasted attempts to broker an Israel-Palestinian agreement - these are only some of the most obvious grounds for doubting that anything of value will come from the conference.

Still, there is a chance to make the conference a success. The weakness of Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could be converted into an incentive to accept the historic compromises needed for peace. And something similar is true of Bush, whose blunders in the Middle East have empowered Iran, brought Al Qaeda into the heartland of the Arab world, and identified the US with torture, and scorn for the rule of law. All three leaders need a peacemaking achievement.

Olmert has been holding out for a joint declaration. But Saudi Arabia has made it clear it will only consider attending a peace conference that addresses substantive issues. If he is wise, he will seize the opportunity to bring as many Arab states as possible - even Iran’s current client, Syria - into a big peacemakers’ tent in Annapolis. The alternative is more extremism, more terrorism, and eventually more wars.