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With Early Restraint After Bombing, Israel Appears to Cling to Peace Track

Friday's attack in Jerusalem was third such act in three weeks. But Israeli Cabinet may ratify peace deal soon.

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The suicide bombers struck, as they often have, in a popular market at its most crowded hour. Then came chaos: the sirens and the ambulances, the police and the press, the protesters and spectators.

The aftermath of a bombing like Friday's at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem is a kind of practiced panic that, sadly, Israelis know well. But what has not been routine is the response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the third terror attack on Israelis since he and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the Wye peace agreement last month.

As news of the bombing hit Mr. Netanyahu's cabinet room, debate on the ratification of the Wye agreement was suspended. But officials close to Netanyahu say they will resume discussion - probably by Wednesday - as long as Mr. Arafat shows he's still taking a hard line against his own Palestinian militants and continues to press the Palestine National Council to vote to cancel clauses in their founding charter calling for Israel's destruction.

"If they cancel, they'll receive. If they won't cancel, they won't receive," Netanyahu told a rally of right-wing supporters over the weekend.

Absent were his usual accusations that Arafat was to blame. Gone were his superlative statements of the past, waging that Arafat had not lifted a finger to fight terrorism. And spurned were suggestions by the newly appointed foreign minister, hawkish ex-general Ariel Sharon, that Israel react by resuming its tinderbox plans to build a new Jewish neighborhood on Arab land in East Jerusalem.

Even the left-wing Ha'aretz newspaper, which usually offers incisive criticism of Netanyahu's policies, editorialized that the prime minister had made the right moves after the bombing - but did not seem to be using it as an excuse to stop implementation of the agreement.

Indeed, many analysts estimate that Netanyahu no longer sees foot-dragging as the politically expedient thing to do. Polls show that most Israelis don't think stalling on negotiations will bring them peace.


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