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At summit, Israel solidifies gains

Pressured by US, Palestinians promised to end the intifada at Wednesday's meeting.

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"In a sad way, it is a capitulation," added Diana Buttu, a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, "and it is also a realization on the part of the Palestinians that they must play the game according to the US's new rules."

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Those rules came into force after Sept. 11, 2001, when attacks against the US complicated Palestinian efforts to use force to fight an often-violent Israeli occupation. Since then, every Palestinian terrorist attack seemed to cement the link between the US and Israeli governments as fellow warriors in a battle against fanatics.

The language that Palestinians use describe the conflict - "resistance against occupation" - seemed less and less credible.

Lost in the rhetoric was the reality that the Israelis have killed three Palestinians for every Israeli that has been killed since strife broke out in September 2000.

Indeed, the road map that both sides have accepted refers more than a dozen times to the need to end Palestinian violence and terrorism. The end of occupation is mentioned twice. Sharon adviser Dore Gold states simply: "Something happened on Sept. 11."

A key role for the US

Now the Palestinians can do little more than trust the US, which has long made clear that its first priority in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the defense of Israel's security.

"We are hoping that the role of the US will be one of countering the imbalance of power between a very strong Israel and a very weak Palestinian Authority," says Michael Tarazi, also a legal adviser to the PLO.

Gissin, Sharon's spokesman, cited Bush's recent visit to Auschwitz as a reason for Israelis not to worry about American priorities. The visit "left no doubt in anyone's mind that the president and the US are committed to the security of Israel."

Even so, Sharon's acceptance of the road map and his apparent willingness to roll back the Jewish settlement of Palestinian lands strike Mr. Tarazi as reasons for hope.

"We see that Israel is taking actions it would rather not take, and that is due to American pressure," he says.

Israeli reservations

But Sharon prefaced his acceptance of the new peace plan by articulating a list of reservations that diplomats say would gut the document.

And observers on both sides of the conflict say they find it difficult to believe that Sharon can or will dismantle the Israeli settlements, that he has worked for decades to build, in order to make room for a Palestinian state.

And it remains entirely unclear whether Mr. Abbas can convince Palestinian militants to join him in the path of nonviolence. If they refuse, he will have to use force, which raises the prospect of a Palestinian civil war.

David Hacham, who has advised Israeli defense ministers on Arab affairs for years, says the meetings in Aqaba remind him of the the heady days a decade ago when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began their talks in atmosphere of anticipation and uncertainty. "Today it's different," he says. "We are more mature, we have experience ... we are aware of the obstacles facing us."

Another difference is that "today there is an international consensus against terrorism," he adds. Conceding that Israelis do feel a sense of victory, he adds: "It's a victory on blood."

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