In the run-up to Rice’s visit, the Israeli government authorized the release of 198 Palestinian prisoners, almost all aligned with the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Fundamentally a token gesture to the US administration—as this is only a miniscule fraction of the some 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners Israel continues to hold—its most observable political result was to provoke accusations by the Hamas Party that Israel was attempting “to boost the interior Palestinian split by supporting one party against the other."
While Secretary Rice reiterated on Tuesday at a joint news conference with President Abbas that ‘‘God willing […] we have a good chance of succeeding,” it appears that more than divine help will be required; there exists little evidence to support Rice’s optimism, little is being done to change what is happening on the ground, and very little public belief exists on either the Palestinian or Israeli side that there is any chance of success, especially in the unrealistic timeframe of the Bush administration.
At its core, even setting aside the issue of the political unknowns and instabilities regarding the upcoming change in leaderships both in Israel and the United States, and the ongoing political and territorial fracture between the Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank respectively, Israel’s continued expansion and entrenchment of its occupation and settlement makes all the present show of niceties, gestures and discussion superficial and almost wholly unlikely to lead anywhere. President Abbas in fact stated after meeting with Secretary Rice that he made clear to her that Israeli settlements “without a doubt are the main obstacle in the political process.”
This point is further illuminated by the most recent report by Peace Now, published on 26 August during Secretary Rice’s visit, which shows that not only has Israeli settlement construction continued at pace in the occupied West Bank, but has in truth nearly doubled. The report states that “Over 1000 new buildings are being constructed in the settlements, in which [there are] approximately 2,600 housing units,” and goes on to point out that the Israeli housing ministry "initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January to May 2008, compared to just 240 units during the period January to May 2007." And in East Jerusalem, according to the Peace Now report, the increase in settlement is even steeper, where the number of tenders has increased by a factor of 38, from 46 units in 2007 to 1,761 in 2008. Moreover, the shape of recent settlement expansion lays bare the lie of Prime Minister Olmert that his administration’s intention is to make “The course of the fence […] in line with the new course of the permanent border." Yet, according to the Peace Now report, “approximately 55% of the new structures are located to the east of the constructed Separation Barrier.”
Despite this, during her visit, Rice’s only public statement regarding the expansion of Israeli settlements was that it is "not helpful" to the negotiations process.
This total lack of any substantive critique by Secretary Rice or the rest of the Bush Administration regarding Israeli settlement policies is in fact longstanding, as the US government has in the past reiterated its support for Israeli settlement policy. As far back as 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated on Israel Radio that “no one should say there’s no agreement between our two governments. […] there is; it was reached on April 14 last year  and it’s clear […] the ‘existing major Israeli population centers’ will have to be taken in account in any final status negotiations.” And, moreover, as reported, “Rice […] made it clear that the term ‘Israeli population centers’ refers directly to the ‘large settlement blocs.’”
So, given the objective situation on the ground, particularly the settlement expansion, and the likely inability of any of the parties involved to implement an agreement should it be ever agreed upon, why the active continuation of all the superficial rituals of negotiation? I can’t help but be reminded here of Zizek’s discussion of “the obsessional neurotic who talks all the time and is otherwise frantically active precisely in order to ensure that something—what really matters—will not be disturbed, that is will remain immobilized.” All three parties know perfectly well that in the present circumstances—Israel’s refusal to end it’s military occupation and make the necessary concessions for a just settlement, the United States’ refusal to put pressure on Israel to abide by international law, and the Palestinian Authority’s lack of popular support and/or political mandate to sign an agreement that would overstep Palestinian red lines—no agreement is possible. Yet all are willing to mutually prop up the edifice of progress and turn a blind eye to the false position of the other, in order to obscure the true weaknesses of their own positions and what each would have to face were the faux-negotiations to end.