The need for reciprocity at the negotiation table

The direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have yet to begin, and already some are setting up Israel as the party responsible should they collapse.

The most prevalent mode of this thinking points to Israel''s moratorium on settlements, which is scheduled to end on September 26. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has announced that if Israel does not renew the moratorium, the talks will end.

Since settlements are one of the core issues set for negotiations, any further concessions by Israel on this subject (such as extending the moratorium) should not be determined outside the process - as Erekat is asserting - but in the process itself. Let''s recall that Ehud Barak indicated to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000 that Israel would dismantle 80 percent of the settlements. He said so, however, only in the context of a full agreement in which the Palestinians would commit to ending the conflict and future demands.

As we all know, the Palestinians rejected the Israeli approach. But what must remain from that failed effort for peace, which offered so much hope for Israelis and Palestinians, is the need for reciprocity. The more Palestinians conclude they can get concessions from Israel without making their own concessions, the less inclined they will be to make the fundamental leap of fully accepting the Jewish state.

It is therefore important to frame the upcoming negotiations in a way that it truly will be one of mutual compromise - and this must happen early on in the process. Since the Palestinians are already raising the issue of settlements, it would useful to begin there. If Israel is to extend its suspension of settlement building, the Israeli public must believe that it got something in return from the Palestinians. Short of that it will seem like deja vu, with Israel making unilateral moves, as it did in its withdrawal from Gaza, and Palestinians feeling no obligation to do anything.

In this regard, an important Palestinian step that could be taken is finally to address the way they speak and teach about Israel to their own people.

For years, despite a commitment to making peace with Israel going back to the beginning of the Oslo process, Palestinians have continued to preach hatred toward Israel on television, in educational materials and in programs for young people. Rather than preparing for a future of peace, recognition and co-existence, they have been educating for continuing conflict. Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority to take concrete steps, to change its materials that either condemn or deny Israel, to eliminate TV shows that preach jihad against Israel, to bring youth to believe in peace.

This need not be the step that Palestinians take, but the principle of mutual reciprocity must be established early on if there is to be a chance for negotiations to succeed.

Allowing Palestinians to threaten to pull out of talks simply on the basis of a unilateral demand is neither the way to set the stage for successful talks nor a path for the public to understand what constitutes good-faith negotiations.

If progress toward peace is to be achieved, both sides will have to make significant concessions. This is what direct talks are about. Israel has a long record of willingness to make concessions. Let''s hope that finally the Palestinians will join that effort so that real change can come to pass.