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Low profile for Secretary Rice's Israel visit

In Israel, the media focused on possible breakthroughs in which the US played no role, highlighting low expectations for Rice's trip.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 18, 2008

Talks: US Secretary of State Rice met with Lebanese leader Nabih Berri Monday in a surprise visit to Beirut.

Ahmad Omar/AP

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Jerusalem

Condoleezza Rice came here this week for the 20th time since becoming secretary of State, and left town having offered many of the same statements made on previous Middle East peace missions: that Israelis and Palestinians should follow their road map obligations; that the Palestinians must fight terrorism; and that the Israelis must stop building settlements.

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But the local media have virtually lost interest in the visit of a US secretary of State, an event which in the past had always built expectations of progress in the peace process, and always made the front page.

The dearth of coverage – and the focus instead on security developments other than those between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a track in which the White House has invested deeply – is an indication of how low expectations are for any peace breakthrough before the end of President Bush's administration.

Israel's two mass-circulation dailies, Maariv and Yediot Aharonot, did not cover Secretary Rice's visit. Haaretz, the progressive broadsheet, filled its front pages with expected breakthroughs in which US officials play no role.

These include an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that was announced Tuesday and will take effect Thursday; a resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks hosted in Turkey; and the possibility of a prisoner exchange next week between Israel and Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported Islamist movement in Lebanon.

"The government of Israel has decided to give a clear preference to the Egyptian track and that remains the priority," says Mark Regev, the spokesman of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. By giving it "priority," he explained, Israel is indicating that it would prefer to reach a cease-fire – also commonly referred to as a tahadiyeh, or calming, in Arabic – rather than launch a major military operation in Gaza.

The Palestinian press also focused little on the visit. "Frankly, people are not at the point anymore where they look at her visit with any sense of seriousness," says Bassem Zubeidy, a professor at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah in the West Bank. "She comes and says nice things to Mr. Abbas, but is not showing any real strictness when it comes to dealing with the Israelis. That Rice was here was really presented in our media ... in a very brief way, and not in a very positive way."

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