WHAT'S BEHIND THE PEACE PRIZE

* The Oct. 14 award of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat symbolized an international determination to keep the Israel-PLO peace accord alive.

Until recently, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin would have been among the least likely figures on the world stage to win a peace prize. Most of Arafat's career has been dedicated to the use of terrorist means to destroy Israel and establish a Palestinian state.

But in the late 1980s, he began to moderate his views. He won the enmity of Palestinian hard-liners by eventually recognizing Israel's right to exist and, in September 1993, joined in the handshake with Rabin on the White House lawn that put peace between Israel and the PLO on a solid track.

For his part, Rabin has made a career fighting Arab enemies of the Jewish state. He was Army chief during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel brought West Bank and Gaza Palestinians under Israeli rule.

Twenty years later, as defense minister, he ordered a brutal crackdown to quell a prolonged Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule.

Yet since launching a second term as prime minister in 1992, he has pressed for peace with Israel's front-line enemies - the PLO, Jordan, and Syria - weathering intense attacks from right-wing critics in the process.

And Arafat is not the first recipient linked to terrorism.

During the British mandate over Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who shared the 1978 prize with former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, was part of a notorious terrorist group called the Irgun.

Reports of atrocities committed during World War II dogged former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who shared the prize in 1974.

Historically, the Nobel committee has overlooked the past in favor of advancing more immediate objectives: rebuffing countries that violate human rights (Russia and South Africa), bestowing authority on leaders of pro-democracy movements (Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi), or shoring up the unfinished work of peacemaking.

The prestigious prize could help lock the peace process in place by making it harder for the three winners to disengage from it under the duress of events like last week's hostage-taking.

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