Rice: Deal Attainable in 2008

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can still be reached by the end of 2008.

"We continue to believe it is an achievable goal to have an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the end of the year," Rice told reporters following a meeting in Ramallah Sunday with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice arrived on her latest 36-hour visit to the region Saturday evening.

While Abbas emerged from meetings in Washington last week with U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary Rice "angry and depressed," he told reporters Sunday that "90 percent of the talks have been completed."

Earlier Sunday, Rice met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss removing more checkpoints in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

The PA maintains that checkpoints hurt their economy, while Israel says it cannot trust PA security forces to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.

Following the meeting, Barak complied by ordering the removal of three more checkpoints, one between Ramallah and the Israeli community of Beit El, a second at the southern entrance to Hebron, and a third north of Nablus (biblical Shechem).

Two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) senior commanders said the removal of these checkpoints will leave Israelis vulnerable to Palestinian terror attacks, as in the past.

Trilateral Talks Monday

Rice may hold trilateral talks Monday with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Barak, along with PA chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Rice is scheduled to hold a second meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before leaving Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that it is "unrealistic" to expect a breakthrough by the end of the year.

"The Bush administration has lost its credibility as an honest broker," he said. "We will now have to wait for the next US administration."

"President Abbas felt as if he was talking to the wall [in Washington last week]," he said. "Both Bush and Rice refused to discuss details related to the current peace talks with Israel. We were very disappointed," the PA official said.

On Friday, Fayyad told reporters in London that it's unlikely an agreement will be reached.

"The progress that started in Annapolis has been slow and does not suggest the likelihood of meeting the objectives from Annapolis of ending the conflict and launching a Palestinian state," Fayyad said.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, israel national news

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