U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still possible before the end of President Bush's term in January.  VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem Rice wrapped up a visit to the region that included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

This was the seventh trip the U.S. secretary of state has made to the region since the start of a new, U.S.-mediated peace effort last November. 

In remarks at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, she said the talks still have a good chance of succeeding, despite deep differences over the issue of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestinian officials are also eager to see an agreement by January.  The Palestinian president on Tuesday said progress is being made, albeit slowly.

President Mahmoud Abbas said all sides must continue working with the Bush Administration to reach an agreement for the benefit of all.  He said the Palestinians and the Israelis should not miss the opportunity to reach an agreement.

Earlier, in Jerusalem, Secretary Rice criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. 

"I think it is no secret, and I have said it to my Israeli counterparts, that I do not think that settlement activity is helpful to the process," Rice said.

Her remarks followed the release of a report by an Israeli pacifist group, Peace Now, saying Israel has nearly doubled the number of new constructions in Jewish settlements from 240 in 2007 to 443 this year.  The report cites figures from the Israeli government's Central Bureau of Statistics.  

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israeli settlement activity has been reduced.  She described Palestinian complaints over Jewish settlements as noise aimed at derailing negotiations.