The Middle East is imploding and the world community is sitting on its hands. Under the media glare that is constantly on the Israelis and Palestinians, the words of protest may seem loud, but without further action they are meaningless. Hundreds of lives have been lost in 18 months of tit-for-tat terror. The human toll soars, yet diplomatic efforts lack urgency. Envoys have come and gone while the people who could make a difference - United States President George W. Bush, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair - have stayed away. The maxim that talk is cheap was never truer. Resolutions at the UN have always meant little when combatants are locked in battle. Arab calls for a peacekeeping force have been ignored and Israel, deaf-eared, has pushed on unimpeded. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hounding of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was bound to inflame Palestinian passions. Militarily impotent, their response - suicide attacks on Israeli targets - drew an obvious response. But Mr Sharon's imprisoning of Mr Arafat, an elected leader, in his compound, and its destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure has taken the conflict to a step beyond reason. Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon have now entered the fray, resuming attacks on Israeli targets. Israel has a military challenge on this new front and Lebanon has warned that the Arab world could get sucked into the fighting. Lessons were painfully learned following similar international inaction towards Rwanda and the Balkans. The images of the pain and suffering in the Middle East are just as horrendous, yet there is no rush to correct the mistakes of the past. Mr Bush's war on global terrorism is inextricably tied up in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was one of the reasons for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington and it is why the word 'terrorist' has become so misused by both sides. Arabs and Jews have been at war for centuries. Their problems will not be solved by warnings, threats or condemnations. Only with tough international mediation and the use of peacekeepers can the powder keg be prevented from exploding.