"Who forgot a bag?"
An urgent voice crackles over the loudspeaker at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. "If you've left your bag, please go to the police immediately."
Israelis are used to having the occasional chefetz chashood - Hebrew for a suspicious object - snarl their commute. But a day after a grenade attack at the bus station in the Israeli city of Beersheba injured 66 people, police were on particularly high alert for further attacks that could harm the chances of a peace agreement at Wye Plantation, Maryland.
There, Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders have been wrangling since Oct. 15 over the details of an accord that would give each what he desires: for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more security; for President Yasser Arafat, more land; for President Bill Clinton, more proof that he can still lead.
Whatever may emerge from the talks, security arrangements - and, critically, their enforcement - seemed certain to remain the chief hurdle for Mideast peace. In what was billed as an attempt to "bridge the gap" and move the process forward, Jordan's ailing King Hussein planned to join the talks at the Chesapeake Bay retreat Oct. 20 for the first time, as Mr. Clinton canceled a political fund-raising trip to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a sixth day of bargaining over a West Bank deal.
Under such an agreement, Israel would withdraw its troops from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) would do battle with militant rejectionists - and the Central Intelligence Agency would make sure both were doing the best job they can to keep other attacks from buffeting the peace process.
The US offered to provide direct CIA assistance as an incentive for resuming the peace process last year. The increased US intelligence involvement was meant to improve and professionalize the Palestinians' ability to squelch terrorism, allowing US officials to judge first-hand whether the Palestinians were refusing security cooperation with the Israelis - or whether Mr. Netanyahu might be using that complaint as a stall tactic.
A stronger US hand
The CIA's increased profile here has been palpable. CIA Director George Tenet visited here two weeks ago, coinciding with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's trip, to help solidify details of a tripartite security agreement between the US, Israel, and the PA.
According to Israeli media reports, the Palestinians agreed to allow CIA officials to tell them which militants they should arrest based on US information gathering.
Washington's position in encouraging Mr. Arafat to crack down on terrorists is precarious. While the Clinton administration needs a relative peace to get the Oslo accords back on track, it hardly wants to be seen as the country that turned the nascent PA into operators of a police state with a host of political prisoners.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group, says this three-way prevention effort has already thwarted many of its recent attempts to launch suicide bombings. The man who threw the grenade did have connections with Hamas, though Palestinian police say that he acted alone.
Still, Netanyahu says that the attack is proof that Arafat isn't doing enough to fight terrorism. In reaction, he declared Oct. 19 that the Israelis would cut off talks with the Palestinians on matters except security cooperation.
But back home, some Israelis are beginning to wonder whether Netanyahu himself is asking for the impossible: Essentially demanding that Arafat stop every terror attack before it happens.
"If there's one Palestinian like the one who attacked Oct. 19, there's 100 more who would do the same. They're awful, but you can't stop every one of them," said Inbal Ben-Arou, a vendor who was doing a sluggish business behind the pastry counter at the bus station, where rush-hour traffic was much sparser than usual.
"People don't want to go out of their houses when it's like this," she says, referring to the alert of more attacks from Palestinian militants. "If Netanyahu really feels our pain, he should show it by getting on with it and getting out of the territories."
Many Israelis would agree. According to a poll conducted by the Ma'ariv newspaper Oct. 16, 82 percent of Israelis said that they wanted the Wye summit to end in an agreement.
But signals from public opinion are mixed: Only 57 percent said they were hoping for a troop redeployment from the West Bank.
Two Israeli women boarding the bus to Tel Aviv, finance ministry co-workers who looked like sisters with their hair tinted in the same henna hue that is popular here, diverged sharply on Netanyahu's approach.
"We have no other option but to continue negotiating," says Tzvia Ben-Hacham, "but Netanyahu will look for any excuse to stall and drive the peace process into ruin."
Suzi Shauloff shook her head at her colleague's words. "The one who has no choice is Arafat. He's got to bend over backward to stop terrorism, and he doesn't. They need to teach their children peace and stop inciting them to war. Netanyahu needs to be as hard on Arafat as he can."
Her idea of what it means to fight terrorism seems to concur with Netanyahu's demands on what the PA has to do to prove it's making, as the Israeli premier has put it in the past, a "100 percent effort" even if not getting 100 percent success.
The Israeli government wants Arafat not just to arrest militants and extradite suspected terrorists, but also to muzzle anti-Israel propaganda in the autonomous Palestinian areas.
Among the Israeli demands on the table at the Maryland talks was one reinforcing a longtime requirement that the Palestinians amend their national covenant calling for Israel's destruction.
Added more recently was a demand that Arafat remove pro-Hamas preachers at mosques and install hand-picked religious leaders whose views fall in line with the PA.
Real explosions, however, may be ever harder to predict.
Israel's chief of the national police force, Yehuda Wilk, recently warned that restrictions on Palestinian travel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel were not a foolproof solution.
"There's no hermetic closure of the territories from Israel," Mr. Wilk told reporters.
"This will not be the last attack we'll see. There is no problem for a perpetrator to mingle with those entering Israel [for work]," he said.
New terror tactic?
Moreover, the tight watch that Israeli and PA police have had over Islamic militant groups recently may have their members turning away from suicide bombings - which are much more devastating but require much more complex coordination between operatives - and toward "hit and run" tactics that are easier to carry out - and harder for intelligence agents to track down.
While there have been no major bombings, the grenade attack followed the recent stabbing of an Israeli woman and the shooting of two Israeli men.
That, Israeli Police Minister Avigdor Kahalani said, meant that "terrorists are using different methods that must be studied by all security forces."