Just not long ago, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in a historic gesture marking an advance in the peace process around British rule of Northern Ireland.

CNN highlighted other moments:

  • In 1972, on his trip to China, U.S. President Richard Nixon shook hands withMao Zedong, in a first step toward better relations between the two countries.
  • Thirteen years later, in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. President Ronald Reagan did the same with another Communist leader: Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two leaders were seeking common ground on arms reduction and other issues.
  • Then, there was a historic moment in 1990. South African President F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shook hands in an iconic moment on the path to end apartheid.
  • And finally: Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously shook hands at the White House in 1993. The two were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in Mideast peace negotiations.

These handshakes are highly symbolic. I wonder what went through their minds to decide for a nation whether a handshake is appropriate.

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