Mideast mediators meet today in a bid to preserve U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks despite their looming failure to produce a deal by year's end.
With an agreement not in sight after nearly 12 months of negotiations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will press the two sides and fellow mediators to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process even after the end-of-the-Bush-administration deadline for a pact passes.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are to present a report card on what they have achieved in secret discussions since the deadline was set at last November's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., but are not expected to get into specifics, officials said.
Then the mediators are expected to give their blessing to continuing the Annapolis process, which sets out a multi-pronged approach to achieving peace that includes building up Palestinian institutions in anticipation of the creation of an independent Palestine.
Rice headed into the meeting after three days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories during which she acknowledged that the year-end deadline could not be met due to political uncertainty in Israel but insisted the process must continue and could succeed.
Israel will elect a new government Feb. 10, and it is not clear if its new leadership will want to carry on with the talks that Bush will have turned over to President-elect Obama's administration weeks earlier.
On Saturday, Rice visited the former Palestinian militant stronghold of Jenin in the West Bank to highlight Palestinian President's Mahmoud Abbas' law-and-order campaign, one of few tangible successes in the slow-moving peace effort.
“Even under difficult circumstances … this is a place of hope, this is a place of inspiration and ultimately a place from where the Palestinian state will spring up,” said Rice, who hailed the West Bank town as a model for Palestinian self-governance.
Six years ago, Jenin endured some of the bloodiest Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
“That it could be reborn this way is in many ways an affirmation that nothing is impossible,” she told reporters at a news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.