Rarely have summits of Arab leaders had as much significance as the one beginning today in Beirut. With the pressing issues of Palestine, Iraq and global terrorism, the need for firm decisions by the 22 kings and presidents of the Arab League has never been greater. But no matter what is said and done in the Lebanese capital, it is the decisions made in Washington that hold the key to peace in the Middle East and the future of hundreds of millions of people. George W. Bush has given his backing to Saudi Prince Abdullah's inspired proposal that Arab nations recognise Israel in return for its withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 war. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has spoken favourably about the plan and its endorsement through an Arab League resolution has the potential to banish Middle East tensions. More immediately, it could end 18 months of Palestinian suicide attacks and Israeli reprisals. In the midst of such hope, the US leader seems doggedly insistent on making amends for his father's failure to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein - a goal deeply unpopular with Arab leaders. The Palestinians' right to self-determination and the future of Iraq are intrinsically tied to America's war against terrorism. They are at the root of the Arab-Western divide and it would be foolish for the US to treat them as separate issues. For this reason, it is unthinkable that the US could persuade its ally, Israel, to accept Prince Abdullah's plan while pursuing its own goals against Iraq. History can be made in Lebanon in the coming two days, but in just as short a time, decisions thousands of kilometres away in Washington might make those decisions redundant. Mr Bush and his administration have an obligation to respect and accept the Arab League's decisions and to ensure that they are given the opportunity to take hold.