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Secretary Rice fights peace-process inertia

Sunday's meeting in Egypt was probably the Bush administration's last effort to get a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 10, 2008

CONTINUITY, PLEASE: Secretary of State Rice in Egypt Sunday called for all parties to push forward the "Annapolis plan" started a year ago in Maryland.

Amr Dalsh/Reuters

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Jerusalem

Inertia, history shows, can be a dangerous thing in the Middle East. It leaves room for radicals and rockets to reset the agenda.

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That's why US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – and members of The Quartet – were in Egypt Sunday: To keep the peace train running, or at least to keep its engine warm.

"I believe that the Annapolis process is now the international community's answer and the parties' answer to how we finally end the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Rice told reporters afterward.

Ms. Rice and other Middle East negotiators met in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt – site of many previous peace talks – to preserve the progress that has been made since November 2007, when the Bush administration sponsored a relaunch of the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Annapolis, Md.

The previously scheduled meeting was attended by members of the Quartet – the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia – as well as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"What we heard today from the parties, which is the most important element of this, is that they believe in the Annapolis process," Rice told reporters.

The choice of language, calling it the "Annapolis process," seems an attempt to put a positive spin on a Middle East peace process that has seen very minimal progress in recent years. To some observers, renaming the process for last year's pre-Thanksgiving meeting in Annapolis gives it a more current ring than the Oslo Process – the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord reached in Norway. And, say some here, its sounds more constructive than mentioning the Bush administration's "road map," which was never successfully implemented.

Rice's last trip

Rice arrived in the region Thursday on what is likely be her last trip to the region to work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. She acknowledges that a hoped-for agreement will not be signed before the end of 2008, as promised by President George W. Bush when he was here in May.

But in the half a year since Bush's visit, little has gone as planned. This conflict is now a sort of tug of war in stasis, with very little movement expected until early next year, at the soonest. Following President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration in late January, Israel faces national elections on Feb. 10. Not until then, do observers or key players, expect any progress.

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