The task of achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is at a critical crossroads.

Sept. 13 marked the seventh anniversary of the signing of the “Oslo Declaration” — the Declaration of Principles. This historic breakthrough, which launched what became known as the Oslo process, was the result of the desire for peace based on mutual concessions and a mutual understanding of each other’s needs. This was a decision that required great courage on both sides.

Sept. 13 was also the date cited by the Palestinians for the declaration of statehood — whether by agreement or unilaterally. Israel sees the Palestinian decision not to take this unilateral step, which would have prejudged the outcome of the negotiations, as a positive sign. A unilateral move could have led to grim and undesirable consequences.

Now, the time has come to bring to fruition the intensive efforts invested by all parties over the past seven years, and particularly over the last few months, before the opportunity is lost.

This will require the same kind of courage displayed by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat seven years ago: a readiness to recognize each other’s needs, and a willingness to make compromises.

The negotiation process has brought us to the very core issues of the conflict: Jerusalem, settlements, borders and refugees. At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak displayed that courage, flexibility and openness in his willingness to entertain a wide range of ideas put forward by U.S. President Bill Clinton. But this flexibility was not matched by Arafat.

The very essence of negotiation is the readiness to compromise. No agreement can ever be achieved if one side remains entrenched in its starting positions. No negotiating process can be successful if either side expects to attain all its dreams. An attitude of “all or nothing” can have only one outcome, that will be worse than nothing.

So far, the Palestinian tragedy has been based upon an equation that caused only suffering to both peoples. For the second time in history, a window of opportunity has opened for the Palestinian people to end a century of bitter conflict.

This opportunity should not be missed.

Today, Israel has reached the utmost limits in its ability to compromise, especially with regard to Jerusalem, its capital city. But agreement can only be achieved if this is reciprocated. It is now the Palestinians’ turn to display a similar willingness to make the difficult compromises necessary to achieve peace.

The decision taken by the Palestinians to defer a unilateral declaration of statehood may be an indication that they are prepared to continue to pursue the negotiating process.

But this is not enough. In order to complete the breakthrough begun in Oslo, they should display once again the courage to change long-standing positions, as they demonstrated seven years ago. Otherwise, they will fail to achieve an agreement that will enable the Palestinian people to enjoy a life of peace, security, dignity and well-being alongside the people of Israel.

Vital interests of both sides must be preserved and defended. Other hopes and aspirations must be open to negotiation, and ultimately to compromise.

It is time to decide. Delaying the decision will accomplish nothing. It is time to complete the Oslo breakthrough. It is time for courage.

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