1993's Lessons on Peace

IN the latter half of 1993, the world witnessed two remarkable steps toward peace. In September, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), shook hands on the White House Lawn. In December, in Oslo, President Frederik de Klerk of South Africa and Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress (ANC), having agreed on a new constitution, together received Nobel Peace Prizes. Most of the world acclaimed these events, but those observing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the South African accords learned other lessons as well.

1. Peace is unpredictable: Prophets who would have predicted these events five years ago would have been laughed at. Messrs. Rabin, Arafat, De Klerk, and Mandela would have found such predictions politically embarrassing and unwelcome.

2. Peace is local: Pressures from US presidents and secretaries of state, United Nations officials, and others like the Norwegians have played key roles in the Middle East. Global campaigns to isolate South Africa moved that country toward racial accommodation. In the end, however, leaders of opposing sides had to sit together, without outsiders, to thrash out their differences.

3. Peace is threatening: Peace agreements do not end violence and may even increase it. The dreams of those who hoped for a maximum victory are shattered. Bitterly opposed to what they regard as humiliating compromises, they turn to violence, hoping either to force a better solution or to bring down the whole structure. Others, not part of the majority, see themselves excluded from future political power. As the process of implementing agreements stretches out, such opponents provoke chaos and point to the results as indications that peace has failed. They seize on each setback, delay, and frustration to seek allies to undermine what has been accomplished.

4. Peace is not an event, it is a process: Hopes rise as citizens see age-old rivals shaking hands. The euphoria is quickly reversed as they perceive, the day after, that little has changed. Such events are milestones, not conclusions; they symbolize and dramatize a step in a process. But in so doing they awaken the fears of skeptics and opponents. Pressures on the leaders to produce quick results increase because of global media coverage, both of the ceremony and of the promises made on such occasions. Those who sign the accords must immediately lower expectations as they take steps toward implementation.

5. Peace is irreversible: Once a dramatic step is taken, it is harder for adversaries to refuse to meet each other or to deny the evidence that agreements are possible. Even in Israel, for example, should a Likud government return, it is hard to see how the accord with the PLO could be repudiated.

6. Implementing peace is different from negotiating it: When an accord is reached, groups must shift from fighting to governing and must try to control violence and protests within their ranks. The formidable task of proving to their constituents and to the world that they can govern effectively lies before the PLO and the ANC.

Two other intractable conflicts also appear to be moving toward resolution in Northern Ireland and Angola. Yet others seem far from this point: Cyprus, Kashmir, and the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia. Those who desire peace in each of these conflicts will be seeking lessons from what happens in the Middle East and South Africa. The lessons are many, but the most important is that even in the most bitter of quarrels, realistic agreements are possible.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.