WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ People gazed through iron fences at a former palace on Monday, some with rosaries in their hands, hoping for signs that the government and opposition leaders inside were reaching agreement on the nation's future.

''People are standing around with tears in their eyes because they know the fate of Poland is being decided,'' a middle-aged woman said. ''We are all experiencing it. We are praying.''

Hundreds were outside when the 57 delegates of the government, Roman Catholic church and political opposition arrived at midday for negotiations that could bring political and economic reforms and restore legal status to the independent trade union Solidarity.

A few people lingered in the darkening chill of late afternoon, staring at the glow of light from the two-story meeting hall in the 17th century palace, which once belonged to the Radziwill family.

An occasional worker stopped briefly on the way home. There were some journalists, policemen, teen-agers muffling giggles.

''It is a positive event In the history of Poland ... that both sides are beginning to be aware of the consequences ... if they don't come to an agreement,'' said Piotr Rolkiewicz, a 56-year-old scientist.

Wanda Paluszewska, an electronics engineer, added: ''This is really the last chance to save Poland from bloodshed.''

After the first day, conferees said talks would resume Wednesday with working groups addressing economic, social, labor and political problems that led the communist authorities to propose the negotiations.

State television showed ranking government officials shaking hands with such opposition leaders as Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who founded Solidarity in 1980 and won the Nobel Peace Prize three years later.

''I think Walesa is the man who enjoys authentic authority among people and his talks will finally give some positive results,'' Rolkiewicz said. ''Society is waiting. The point is not to take revenge, but to repair this People's Republic of ours.''