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Rice to Hold Talks With Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East to try and push forward Israeli Palestinian peace talks. But expectations are low, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Rice will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders in yet another effort to push for Washington's goal: a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office in January. But both sides are pessimistic about a breakthrough. Peace talks have bogged down because of Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel is negotiating with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who heads a moderate government in the West Bank. But the Islamic militant group Hamas controls Gaza, after defeating Mr. Abbas's Fatah forces in a civil war in June.

Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, and former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas says the daily rocket attacks on Israeli border communities are not a recipe for peace.

"While Hamas controls and governs Gaza there's very little progress that can be done with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority," said Pinkas.

At the same time, Pinkas believes the United States has to press on with the process launched at the Annapolis peace conference last year.

"Both the president and the secretary have to be committed to their general two-state solution, which I personally think the viability of which is questionable right now," said Pinkas.

Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser believes Israel's settlement policy and its failure to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank are weakening Mr. Abbas.

"President Abbas has been in power almost for four years. So far, Israel gave him nothing," said Abu Nasser.

Rice is preparing the ground for another visit to the region by President Bush. Mr. Bush visited Israel and the West Bank in January and is due here again in May.