Goodwill Toward Men

It has been said many times, but bears repeating: Peace is more than the absence of war. That sublime refrain of the Christmas season, "on earth peace, goodwill toward men," sums up what's required. The two elements are inseparable. Goodwill, fostering cooperation and trust, is concomitant with peace.

To appearances, that key ingredient still seems conspicuously absent in Bosnia. As President Clinton visits US troops, and the NATO powers confer on what can be done to move the Dayton peace accords forward, Bosnian refugees remain crowded into temporary quarters and the main perpetrators of ethnic cleansing remain at large. The institutions, like a joint presidency, designed to bring the warring peoples together struggle to function.

Yet snipers are no longer cutting down innocent civilians in Sarajevo, and the shells that demolished architectural marvels of worth to all mankind no longer fall. The international troops keeping the guns silent are doing their job well. And the decision by Washington to maintain that presence without arbitrary deadlines is welcome.

The troops' job will change in the months ahead as the US and its European partners in Bosnia work out the next phase of their strategy to implement Dayton. This should entail more determined efforts to round up indicted war criminals; it should include more determined efforts to resettle refugees. An internationally organized "police force" may spearhead these tasks, instead of NATO soldiers.

Such steps are needed. But they are in a sense peripheral to the central task of getting Muslims, Croats, and Serbs again to think of each other as something other than mortal enemies. That process gains momentum as even a few people talk across ethnic divides, as civic projects sponsored by consultants from abroad move ahead, or as single individuals have the courage to break stereotypes and conceive a better future.

We're reminded, in this regard, of a meeting of Monitor journalists with the late Yitzhak Rabin in 1990, two years before he became Israel's prime minister. Mr. Rabin, a gruff, battle-hardened former general, voiced cautious admiration for the Palestinians' determination to take their destiny into their own hands. The violent "uprising" in the occupied territories was still seething, but Rabin sensed the possibility of a new relationship between his people and their longtime adversaries.

His vision of a partnership for peace between long-warring neighbors has become sadly blurred of late. But its earlier breakthroughs hinted at what's possible when people, on both sides of a conflict, have the courage to change standpoints.

That courage is more a matter of spiritual strength than diplomatic agility. Goodwill, even in mustard-seed quantity, allows courageous peacemaking to germinate.

This germination is aided by the prayers for peace of every person of goodwill, no matter how distant from Bosnia, the Middle East, or any other scene of human conflict.

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