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Mideast peace: one more push

Condoleezza Rice heads to the area for a summit of powers promoting peace.

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Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice has met Israeli and Palestinian leaders many times since last November. She is shown here at an April meeting in Bahrain.

Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters/file

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Less than a year after President Bush launched an effort to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of his term, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sets out Wednesday on what could be a final push to put Mr. Bush's stamp on the sputtering peace process.

This weekend, the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheik will host a summit of the foreign ministers of major powers – and Israeli and Palestinian leaders are scheduled to make a rare joint appearance. As a result, expectations are growing for at least a minimal breakthrough – perhaps setting markers from which a new US administration could take up the peace process next year.

"The Bush administration has a real opportunity to move beyond the role of facilitator to get the two sides to at least set down what they have accomplished in the last year," says Peter Joseph, president of the Israel Policy Forum, a US advocacy group that encourages sustained American diplomacy in the Middle East. "Maybe they can't determine what the next administration does with it, but they can pass the baton in such a way that has the potential to keep the peace process moving forward."

Still, with talk of passing batons come reminders of high hurdles. Israel is going into a campaign that will culminate in national elections early next year, and the fractured Palestinian leadership is entering reconciliation talks later this month. Thus, prospects for building momentum appear to be several notches below bright.

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