U.S. admits peace deal by deadline impossible

The Bush administration conceded Thursday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by a year-end deadline is no longer possible.

“We do not think it is likely it will happen before the end of the year,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged as much at the outset of a Mideast trip meant to secure the modest gains from a year of U.S.-sponsored talks between Israel and one part of the fractured Palestinian leadership.

Perino said U.S. advisers began to doubt the deadline months ago, as a corruption scandal and political uncertainties occupied Israel's attention.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is being forced from office by the scandal, and the country is set to hold new elections in February.

En route to the Middle East for her eighth trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories since the parties set the deadline for reaching an agreement last November, Rice said political uncertainty in Israel is the main obstacle.

Rice said it is important to maintain momentum so that new governments in both Israel and the United States have “a firm foundation” to continue the talks next year.