Jerusalem Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened an intense round of Mideast shuttle diplomacy Sunday, struggling to bring Israelis and Palestinians close enough to make a planned U.S.-hosted peace conference worthwhile.
The two sides are at bitter odds over an outline of a peace agreement that would be presented at next month's conference, and Rice sought to lower expectations her mission would finalize preparations for the gathering.
Underscoring her less-than-optimistic assessment, Israeli and Palestinians traded shots about the other's commitment to peace even as she arrived in the region. During her four-day visit, she will bounce between Israel and the West Bank, seeking a consensus.
Her hope is to close the gap as Israel and the Palestinian Authority try to forge an outline of an eventual peace deal and produce a joint statement for the conference. It is expected to held in Annapolis, Md., in late November.
But after Rice's first series of meetings, a senior State Department official hinted that the date could slide as the lead negotiators for the two sides will begin only this week to try to craft the document.