The other day, I came across an old white baseball cap at the bottom of a drawer. Emblazoned on the front, in Hebrew, Arabic and English letters--were the words: Blessed are the peacemakers". It had been given to me as a freebie, to ward off the desert sun at a ceremony to sign the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in October 1994. In these days of war, killing, terrorism and religious extremism in the Middle East, the very idea of peacemaking seems a cruel joke, but on that windswept day in the desert, everything seemed possible.
The treaty with Jordan came a year after the momentous handshake in Washington between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Ararat. There was talk then of the "Children of Abraham"--the Jewish descendants of Isaac and the Muslim heirs of Ishmael--sharing a common religious, historical patrimony. Abraham was the archetypal peacemaker, resolving his conflict with Lot over land and bargaining with God to save Sodom from destruction.
But as the Bible tells us, Abraham's offspring were not destined to live together peaceably, and for the past three years the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael have killed each other without pity. Much blood-spilling is taking place elsewhere in the world.
Yet peacemaking need not be hopeless. According to researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden, the number of armed conflicts around the world has been declining steadily. At the peak in 1991, there were 54--from wars to "minor" conflicts. In 2002, the number was down to 31. The researchers say the figure for 2003 may be "slightly higher" as a result of the war in Iraq, but the trend is still downwards.
There is no shortage of work for peacemakers. Their task is even more important in this era of "global insecurity", when a conflict in a …