In a Warring World

It started as a conversation involving professors and peace activists. Norwegian sociologist Terje Rod Larsen and his wife, Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul, set up a series of direct unofficial secret peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Norway. The first Israeli representatives were two scholarly peaceniks, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundik, with links to the Israeli leadership.

Representing the Palestine Liberation Organization were economist Abu Alaa and two aides, Hassan Asfour and Maher el Kurd. The talks eventually ended up becoming official and produced the 1993 Oslo Accord, captured for the world in a televised handshake on the White House lawn between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin. Although only one step along the tortuous path toward Middle East peace, it was the biggest breakthrough in decades of violent conflict.

The Third Side is increasingly stepping in to help resolve international disputes that once only recourse to warfare would have settled. The Vatican averted a war over the Beagle Channel islands between Argentina and Chile by mediating a mutually acceptable division of territory. Mediation by the international community has ended wars in Namibia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Nor is it just governments that intervene. As in the Oslo talks, more and more nongovernmental organizations and private citizens are working in parallel with official diplomats to bring parties together and facilitate talks. The Community of Sant’Egidio, an assembly of Christian communities, is credited with facilitating an end to the war in Mozambique.

The Third Side sometimes goes further and intervenes forcefully to stop aggression and war. With the world public continually appalled by massacres and rapes of defenseless Muslims in Bosnia, international forces finally intervened, destroyed Serb arsenals and helped Muslim and Croat armies redress the balance of power to the point where the Serbs were ready to talk. The ensuing peace settlement, forged by international mediators, is being enforced by armed peacekeepers from twenty-four nations.

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