US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday reiterated her belief internal political turmoil in Israel thwarted the Bush Administration in its quest to oversee a final status Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of 2008.
"Even though there was not an agreement by the end of the year, it is really largely because of the political situation in Israel," Rice told reporters in Washington just hours before hosting visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a breakfast meeting.
She assigned no blame to the Palestinians' ongoing failures to eliminate the threat of anti-Israel terrorism and build the foundations of a viable independent state.
Both Rice and President George W. Bush had previously vowed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be concluded before the next US president took office.
But Olmert's plunging popularity and involvement in a series of corruption scandals led to his ouster as leader of the ruling Kadima Party in September, a move that sparked early national elections to be held on February 10 of next year and effectively put the peace process on hold.
Olmert is in Washington ostensibly to make sure the next US administration continues on the path forged by himself and Bush, though experts have speculated that the unusual meeting of the two lame duck leaders could be a prelude to strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.