WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returns to the Mideast this week amid dwindling hopes for securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by a year-end target.

She was to arrive today in Israel on what will be her seventh trip to the region since President Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set the goal at a U.S.-hosted peace conference last November.

But negotiations have produced little tangible progress. With a deliberate lowering of expectations and political uncertainty in Israel as Olmert prepares to step down next month, prospects for Rice's latest mission appeared dim.