MADRID - On her way to the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used a refueling stop in Ireland to let loose the following ground-breaking insight about the Arab-Israeli conflict: "There are too many important stakeholders, and any progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front is going to require all of the parties."

All of the parties? Every single one of them? Is there something we are missing? Is Ms. Rice planning a trip to Damascus? Washington has decided to talk to the elected Palestinian government? And what about the Israelis? Is the U.S. planning to demand that Jerusalem evacuate a single outpost, as a sampling, as required by the road map, for the sake of Bush's vision of the Middle East?

It is too bad that on her way to the region Rice could not find the time to stop in Madrid and drop in on the peace conference being held there to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the conference her boss' father and one of her predecessors, James Baker, convened in 1991. She would have found there a huge array of "parties" dying to be part of the solution to the conflict: Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Saudis, Europeans and Russians. There were also some Israeli MKs, including the representative of Yisrael Beiteinu, and two former Likud "princes." There were also four Americans, former senior officials at the State Department.

Everyone heard the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, reiterating the organization's commitment to a League proposal for a solution to the conflict, made in March 2002. He said that the League's 22 member states are sticking by the well-known formula - land for peace, and a negotiated solution to the refugee problem. They listened to the address of Dr. Marwan Muasher, who as Jordan's foreign minister was one of the architects of the Arab initiative, who noted that in spite of the wars, the diplomatic impasse and the continued occupation, no Arab state has withdrawn its support for the initiative. Muasher said that the authors of the League's resolution gave serious attention to the security needs of Israel, "not only vis-a-vis the Palestinians, but also vis-a-vis all the states in the region, including Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia." He said that the Israelis are invited to express their security concerns in talks with the Arab states.

Had Rice found a free moment to drop in on Madrid, she would have heard that were it not for the nearly delusional insistence of Bush to topple President Assad's regime, it would be possible to extract Syria from the "axis of evil." The Syrian legal expert Riad Daoudi said, at the conference, that if the United States and Israel would honor Syria with the title "a party to the conflict," it would be possible to talk about everything - including his country's links with parties who do not accept the League's resolution.

On her way here, Rice said that as an academic, she had read a great deal about past efforts to bring about progress on the Palestinian issue. "If you don't lay the groundwork very well," Dr. Rice said, "then it's not going to succeed." As she was about to depart for a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the visiting secretary of state insisted on the need to stick by the road map, and explained to reporters that preceding the map proposal, thorough preparatory work was carried out. So, what came of it? It will soon be four years since this multi-stage plan was introduced. The last stage - a permanent solution with the Palestinians and a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon - was supposed to be signed no later than the end of 2005. For now, the conflict is only getting worse.

Before Israel and the Palestinians are two options. One, to go down the path of the Madrid process of Bush, Sr., who recognized that following the victory in the first Gulf War, force should be followed by a political settlement. The other, to follow Bush, Jr., who believes, after the failure of the second Gulf War, that what follows force must be more force. If they choose the first option, the draft - a variation of the Arab League's resolution and the Clinton proposals - is waiting on the shelf. If they opt for the second path, we will all end up like the rats in the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.