YEAR IN REVIEW: Israels red-thread year marked by terror, turbulence and Rabins determination to

JERUSALEM — Hut hashani, a biblical metaphor used in modern Hebrew to mean theme, literally translates as red thread.

For the past year, the hut hashani running through Israeli society has been an all-too-literal red thread: a string of terror attacks that has left dozens of arbitrary victims dead or maimed. These incidents, mostly in the heart of Israel, hemorrhaged public support for the peace policies of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's government.

But despite the terrorism, Rabin has continued to push ahead to implement the 1993 accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization — the agreement that earned Rabin, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

It was expected that an agreement on the next phase of self-rule would be signed this month, setting the stage for Israeli forces to redeploy out of most major West Bank Palestinian cities and for the Palestinians to hold elections in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

As the Israeli-Palestinian talks proceeded, Arafat, who in July has marked one year of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho, had slowly come to understand the gravity of the terrorist threat to himself as well as to Rabin.

He sought with increasing success to strike at the Islamic fundamentalist movements that spawned the suicide bombers. But the PLO leader walked a fine line, anxious not to alienate his domestic constituency.

On other political fronts, Syria's President Hafez Assad resumed talks with Israel but continued to reject generous land-for-peace terms from Rabin.

The greatest movement toward peace came from Jordan's King Hussein, who signed a peace treaty with Israel in October, and has since moved boldly toward neighborly normalization.

Progress with the Palestinians and with Jordan led to the establishment of diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and a record number of states, including several Arab countries. But there is still caution and reluctance on the Arab side, and Israeli businessmen are learning the skills of Eastern patience.

Israelis had much good news, however. The economy continued to flourish, showing a solid growth rate, a substantial fall in unemployment and, in recent months, a sharp drop in the inflation rate.

Nonetheless, pockets of poverty and tens of thousands of struggling families indicate that some of Israel's deep social problems remain unsolved.

Israel continued to be the beacon for Jews from around the world. Tens of thousands of Jews made aliyah during the past year, mainly from the former Soviet Union. For more than 50 Jews from war-torn Chechnya and others from beleaguered Bosnia, Israel was a welcoming haven.

But domestic economic and social issues took a back seat to the nation's focus on the peace process and terrorism.

The worst act of terrorism came in October, just days before the festive signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in the Arava, with President Clinton in attendance. The suicide bomber chose Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, killing 23 people on the No. 5 bus.

In March, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a crowded bus stop at Beit Lid Junction, near Netanya, killing 21 people, most of them soldiers. The next month another seven soldiers and a young American college student, Alisa Flatow of New Jersey, died in a similar attack on a road used by Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Terrorists struck again in July, killing six on an urban bus in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

And in August five died, including Joan Davenny, a San Francisco-born American Jewish day school teacher, and more than 100 were injured when a suicide bomber triggered an explosive device during rush hour on a bus traveling to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.

In addition to these bombings, the kidnapping by Hamas of an Israeli soldier, Nachshon Waxman, gripped the entire nation for a week in October, made more tragic by his death during a failed Israeli rescue attempt.

After each violent incident, demonstrators gathered to shout obscenities at government ministers. Their protests led to a campaign of civil disobedience as Jewish settlers sought to win popular support for their opposition to efforts to expand Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

Led by the mainly Orthodox activists of the settler movement Gush Emunim, residents at Efrat and other settlements launched demonstrations. The scenes of soldiers and police dragging the settlers and their children into vans made media headlines during the summer months, but the effect of the settlers' actions on public opinion was unclear.

On the political level, the opposition, led by the Likud Party, cited the terror attacks as evidence that the peace process with the Palestinians was failing. It was not affording Israeli citizens that most basic of all rights: personal security.

At first, the prime minister publicly tended to confirm these sentiments. Rabin faulted Arafat and the Palestinian Authority for laxness in dealing with the fundamentalist terror threat posed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two leading extremist groups in the Gaza Strip.

But during the summer, Rabin's tone changed radically. After the Tel Aviv blast in July, he spoke of Arafat's efforts to combat terror, and after the Jerusalem attack in August he called on Israelis to distinguish between Palestinians who sought to wreck the chances of peace and those who were victims.

Although public support for the government's policies dropped after each suicide bombing, the periods of quiet brought a rise in Rabin's popularity. To academic experts the importance of these opinion survey findings was clear. The next election, scheduled for November 1996, would focus above all else on the issue of personal security.

The Labor Party, which is expected to run behind the 73-year-old Rabin again, will have to convince swing voters that the government's policy holds out the long-term promise of security as well as peace — despite the toll in lives that has grown.

In this heavily charged atmosphere, some observers suggested that Rabin was fortunate to encounter outright intransigence in Damascus. These observers maintain that the Rabin government, weakened by the defection of the Sephardi religious party, Shas, lacks the political strength to simultaneously push through two "traumatic" peace deals — one with the Palestinians and the other with Syria — both involving major territorial concessions.

As Israeli and diaspora Jews prepared for the High Holy Day period of personal and national introspection, there was some serious, even somber thinking in both communities regarding the resilience of Jewish unity and solidarity in the face of momentous, controversial and profoundly divisive events.