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NEWS ANALYSIS : Support Ebbing as Peace Talks Drag On : Mideast: Surge in terrorism raises pressure on Rabin and Arafat. But impasse on troop withdrawal doesn't mean process has broken down.


Arafat similarly cannot retreat, for that would mean turning over the Palestinian leadership to the radicals, now an unholy alliance of Islamic fundamentalists and the far left, admitting that they are correct in continuing to call for an armed struggle to bring about the destruction of Israel.

Compromises thus must be found in the next 10 days on the outstanding issues, and Rabin, while negotiating from a position of strength, must satisfy Arafat's political needs to serve his own.

"It is an impressive show of coolness on the part of both leaders, saying let's not run ahead and just do something under pressure," said Dedi Zucker, an Israeli member of Parliament from the left-wing Meretz Party, a member of the governing coalition. "But they must use the time well--they have paid a high political price for it."

The principal danger now appears to be that the stall in the drive toward peace becomes permanent, that the momentum lost in recent weeks is not recovered and that the cycle of violence comes to govern the speed of the negotiations.

"Time is of the essence," the leftist newspaper Al Hamishmar observed Sunday. "Every delay in carrying out (the interim arrangement) is liable to create unforeseen problems and a loss of control."

Elias Freij, the mayor of Bethlehem in the West Bank, warned that the 10-day delay in implementing the original agreement "will create among Palestinians many more doubts about the true intentions of Israel."

Much will depend, Freij said, on whether Israel follows up immediately with moves, such as the release of Palestinian prisoners, to rebuild confidence in the accord. "People want to see and feel and taste the change, and they don't so far," he said.

Yet senior Israeli analysts believe that the momentum can be regained quickly, and with it popular confidence in the peace process among Israelis and Palestinians.

"The real deadline is April 13, when our withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho must be complete," a Rabin adviser said. "Palestinians will see the changes gathering speed as army outposts are closed, checkpoints are removed, roads are reopened, prisoners come home, our troops pull out and the PLO comes in. That will all happen in the first phase. We are just negotiating how it will happen.

"The trick will be to persuade our own people that they are just as safe, even safer, with the rapidity of these changes. We do need some assurances that the process will not spin out of control--that's why we want to control border crossings, for example--but a speedy implementation is as much in our interest as in the PLO's."

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