(What was the issue being addressed?) Secretary Rice addressed settlement expansion and timed with this visit, an Israeli activist group released a report which said that settlement building within Israeli settlements in the West Bank doubled within the past year. These are areas that Palestinians hope will be part of their nation one day. (So this is not an expansion of the footprint of the settlements, but just more homes within settlement border?) Yes, and the major difficulty is it's harder for the Israeli government to move out settlers when they close settlements, but that's also a bargaining chip for the Israeli government. (How did this become a flashpoint in Secretary Rice's meetings with Israel's Foreign Minister?) Israel's Foreign Minister downplayed this settlement issue. Secretary Rice has taken a strong interest in this issue, and she quickly contradicted her Israeli counterpart. Now Israel's Foreign Minister called this issue a distraction but when Secretary Rice met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the settlement issue came up again, and Abbas called it a central issue. (Since this issue is so front and center right now, where does that leave the Bush administration in its goal of having a peace deal established by the time it leaves office?) Expectations on the ground have been adjusted quite a bit, there's a lot of pessimism on both sides and now people are hoping by the end of the year there might be a memorandum of understanding.

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