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Rice in Israel as Chances for Year-End Peace Agreement Fade


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Israel as part of a final effort by the Bush administration to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on track. Arriving in Tel Aviv, Rice indicated that a peace deal by the end of the year will not happen. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem.

With her job expiring in less than three months, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on her eighth trip to the region in a year - to check on the peace process and see where the next administration will pick up.

It was nearly a year ago that the talks were launched in the U.S. city of Annapolis, with Israel and the Palestinians setting a goal to reach an agreement by the end of 2008.

Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. officials acknowledge it is highly unlikely that there will be a deal by year's end.

Rice told reporters political turmoil in Israel has been the main complicating issue. The country is heading to early elections in February after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was forced from office over corruption allegations.

Analysts say Israel's political turmoil, combined with a new U.S. administration taking office in January and speculation of a possible impending change of leadership in the Palestinian territories, means there is little chance there will be any movement in the peace process for several months.

Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says both sides remain far apart on the key issues of the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and Jewish settlements. He says the best Secretary Rice can do on this trip is to prepare a status report for the new Obama administration and show good faith on the part of outgoing President George Bush.

"She is not trying, really, to achieve any kind of final agreement right now, but just maybe to pave the way and make a last hopefully positive contribution of the Bush administration," he said.

President-elect Barack Obama has said he will make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority, but has given few concrete indications of how his administration will approach it.

Secretary Rice's trip will include meetings with Israeli officials, opposition-leader Benjamin Netanyahu - a strong contender for Prime Minister in the February elections - and later with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Rice's tour also includes stops in Jordan and Egypt, part of an effort to build Arab support for the peace process.