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On the eve of U.S. Secretary of Condoleezza Rice’s upcoming trip to the Middle East, Glenn Kessler reports in the Washington Post that the prospects for peace have “shifted dramatically” since President Bush held the Annapolis peace conference three months ago. And, now, the White House’s influence on the players in the region appears to be waning.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said that key players in the region are moving beyond the Bush administration. “The feeling is that if you keep the flash points on a lower or somewhat higher flame, it will give you more cards when a new administration comes in,” he said, speaking in a phone interview from Israel. “Everyone is sucking up to the Iranians,” he added.

The signs of American irrelevance are apparent throughout the region. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hailed as a potential peacemaker by the Bush administration, mused last week to the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustour that in the future it might be necessary to return to armed struggle against Israel. And Syria, which received an unexpected invitation to Annapolis, believes that the peace summit was “an exercise in public relations” and that Bush has no interest in peace, as Syria’s ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha put it last week.

The stalled process has added to skepticism in Israel, according to Kessler.

A poll published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth last week showed that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed believed the talks would not bring peace, while 78 percent believed the talks were being held only for political reasons.

During a recent visit to Washington, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad charged that Israel has “not done a thing materially on the ground to help my government.” Israeli officials counter that Israel has taken steps to bolster the Abbas government, but that some efforts – such as new restrictions on settlement growth – cannot be publicized because of the tenuous political situation in Israel.”

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