Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann (1926); Henry Kissinger and le Duc Tho (1973); Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978); Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk (just last year). Four times the Nobel Prize for Peace has been shared by former enemies. And now, on this fifth occasion, the prize goes for the first time to three warriors turned peace-makers -- Palestine's Yasser Arafat and Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
If this is a pattern (next year could be Ireland's turn, maybe Korea's after that), it is a pattern deftly cut to meet the needs of a world littered by conflict but striving ever more insistently toward conflict resolution. The handshake between Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat on the White House lawn 13 months ago was as improbable at one time as the reconciliation between Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk. Yet both of these fantasies became reality, joining Jews and Arabs in their long search for mutual salvation, inducing South Africa's white minority to find liberation in freeing the black majority it had oppressed so long.
That the Nobel was announced on the same day Mr. Arafat's police in the Gaza Strip were frantically searching, at Mr. Rabin's insistence, for an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas fundamentalists shows how completely their rapprochement has altered the entire Middle East situation. Before their handshake they were locked in unrelenting struggle. Now they are partners who have already extended the peace process to Jordan and seek to close the circle with Syria and Lebanon. Even some of the oil kingdoms of the Persian Gulf dare to trade openly with Israel.
Yet Mr. Arafat has such a bloody past that a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee resigned to protest his award, and the leader of Israel's Likud Party (whose founder Menachem Begin joined Egypt's Anwar Sadat in Jimmy Carter's Camp David accords) called the Palestinian leader "the arch murderer." Mr. Arafat, in turn, was chastised by Arab hardliners for &r; accepting partial autonomy rather than the complete sovereignty had long demanded for the Palestinian state.
Much of this dispute was put in correct context by Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Nobel committee. "The Nobel Peace Prize isn't the granting of sainthood," he said. "There have been many winners with dark things about their past but they have managed to rise above them. That is the point." [Italics ours.]
Indeed that is the point, and with the added luster of the Nobel the world can be assured that Messrs. Arafat, Rabin and Peres will not let the provocation of a Hamas hostage-taking sabotage the peace process.