Peace is said to be a high priority, no matter whom you talk to. People crave it and pray for it, and rightly so.
This is a much more important issue, I think, than most of us realize, especially in these days when people use terms like 'The Long War' and 'the peace process' .Yet few of us, especially in the West actually stop to think of what we really mean by peace, and what you can't define clearly is frequently illusory.
The Bible provides one definition, with the prophet Isaiah talking of a time of peace so profound that men will not only transform the arms of battle into implements of peace but cease to study the arts and strategy of war.
That's obviously an unrealized ideal in the immediate future.
Islam is much more direct about the matter. Westerners are confused when Muslims say that Islam means peace (actually, it comes from the Arabic aslama, which means submission).
To Muslims, who divide the world into dar Islam, the part of the world where Islam rules and the non-Muslim world, referred to as dar harb ( literally the house of war), peace is much simpler. It's a condition where the entire world is dar Islam, exactly what Mohammed ordered his followers to strive for right before his death in 632 CE, according to the Hadiths.
If some Muslims talk of peace when they actually mean a time of dar Islam, it's understandable that something gets lost in translation -- sometimes deliberately so.
So, is peace then simply an absence of war and conflict? It ain't necessarily so.
After the signing of the Versailles Treaty that ended WWI in 1918, France's Commanding General Ferdinand Foch said in an amazingly prescient remark, "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years."
What Marshall Foch understood was that while Germany had been bled white and the home front was collapsing, the German Army had not been decisively defeated. He guessed that the German military establishment and their political allies would use that fact to inflame revanchist sentiment as a springboard to a new war as soon as possible, and realized that the Versailles Treaty would last only as long as the allies maintained military superiority over Germany and occupied a strategic part of the German homeland.
The first fifteen years of the armistice between the World Wars could be said to fit this definition of an absence of war and conflict, but beneath the surface the conflict seethed, and as Foch predicted, the German Army continued to claim it had been 'stabbed in the back by traitors at home', a refrain that was echoed by the Nazis, the Stahlhelm and other groups who favored abrogating the Versailles treaty. The army continued to enjoy prestige in Germany and became almost a state within a state, drilling and training men in secret in a de facto violation of Versailles.
When the political climate was right and Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, the violations became even more blatant, German rearmament increased and three years later Hitler sent the army into the strategic Saar and the Rhineland and ended the allied occupation. Outright war came only a few short years after.
The Middle East is currently witnessing a similar example of the ending of an 'armistice' that arose from similar circumstances. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in a war of annihilation that was essentially a continuation of the Six Day War in 1967.
Unlike the 1967 war, Egypt and Syria caused considerable Israeli casualties and advanced before they were ultimately thrown back with heavy losses. Israel General Arik Sharon made military history by ignoring his orders and crossing the Suez Canal behind the Egyptians, trapping the main Egyptian Third Army in an iron ring. Rather than destroy the 3rd Army as a fighting force and go for a decisive victory, as Sharon advocated, Israeli PM Golda Meir and the Labor government in power at the time followed American and UN direction to seek a ceasefire and avoid an Arab 'humiliation', and ordered Sharon to release the Third Army almost intact back to Egyptian lines.
Meanwhile, on the Syrian front Israeli Brigadier General Rafael "Raful" Eitan led a division that stopped the Syrians at Nafekh, threw back the Syrian forces and advanced to within striking distance of Damascus.
It's interesting to contrast the two results. In Syria, there was never any talk of peace with Israel, but there was comparatively little overt hostility either, except through proxies like Hezb'allah. With the IDF only a short hop from Damascus, the Syrians had motivation to avid outright war with Israel. That motivation would disappear, of course, if the Israelis ever returned the Golan to Syria.
In Egypt, there was a similar situation analogous in many ways to what occurred with Germany after WWI. Even though Egypt's forces were defeated, their armies were not defeated decisively, to the point that the Egyptian regime was able to propagandize to their own people that they had not lost the 1973 war at all, that they had in fact won.
In that context, the Camp David Accords, by which Egypt obtained the Sinai could be seen as an accommodation and even a capitulation from Israel by Egyptians, and it had the additional benefit of removing Israeli forces from striking distance of the Suez Canal and Cairo. In war, after all, it is the victors who gain territory and concessions.
In consequence, what has occurred between Egypt and Israel is not peace but an armistice, as Marshall Foch would have put it. The two countries signed and kept a formal peace treaty (largely subsidized by US baksheesh to Egypt of over a billion dollars per year) but demonization of Israel and Jews never stopped in Egypt's mosques, schools and media. The Mubarak regime kept the arrangement, but was never unwilling to use the Egyptian hatred for Jews and Israel to its own advantage.
The US-trained and equipped Egyptian Army has been rebuilt and has always performed its war games exercises from the standpoint of fighting Israel as its main foe on its Eastern borders, and indeed the Egyptian Army's weaponry and deployment makes no sense otherwise.
With the fall of the Mubarak regime, the key points of the armistice -- diplomatic relations, trade and the demilitarization of the Sinai -- are all likely to be suspended by Egypt as the country reverts to its overt hostility towards Israel, and if outright war is unlikely simply because Egypt cannot afford it financially or in terms of stability right now, it certainly will not be 'peace' and Egypt will almost certainly be siding with Israel's enemies Hamas and by extension Syria and Iran as the Muslim Brotherhood takes over more political power.
Let's examine, in contrast an instance of real and lasting peace, the one between the victorious Allies and Japan and Germany after WWII.
The allies made a point of insisting on an unconditional surrender in both cases, and refused several offers of an attractive armistice from the Nazis, who attempted to split the allies by offering a separate peace to the Western allies so that they could devote all of their efforts to throwing back the Soviets.
At the end of the war there was no question either among Japan and Germany's armed forces or their people that they had been decisively defeated. Both countries had been devastated, suffered severe shortages of food, housing, medical supplies and fuel and were forced to accede to military occupation in order to avoid being totally destroyed.
Both countries lost significant territory -- the Germans lost Alsace-Lorraine to France and a huge swath of territory to Poland and the Japanese lost the Kuril Islands, Saipan and the oil rich and strategic territory of Sakhalin.
To put it in perhaps a more modern context, both countries suffered major real and concrete costs for launching and losing a war of aggression, both were forced to absorb and resettle a significant number of their nationals as refugees in their remaining territory and there was never any question at all of ephemera like 'land for peace.'
As a consequence, the populations of Germany and Japan both came to the realization that their respective countries had come perilously close to ceasing to exist, and made a collective decision that their survival lay in real peace, an end to aggression, the pursuit of prosperity and western-style democracy.
Real peace is, after all, a collective agreement to live and let live. Only when two peoples mutually decide to make that a heartfelt goal can it exist, and without that basic realization all the schemes and negotiations, all the promises of land for peace, territory swaps, redrawn borders and the like are just a prelude to another round of conflict.
Or to put it in even simpler terms, real peace comes when the cost has been so great for the aggressor that resorting to hostilities again for anything other than an existential threat is almost unthinkable.
Because, in the end, real peace is the fruit of a decisive victory.