Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nobel Peace Prize: What Does it say?

Many commentators, especially Europeans, have commented upon the award of the 2012 peace prize by the Nobel Committee in Oslo to the European Union. Here is one by former war correspondent, military historian, and defense expert Max Hastings.  I don't agree with many of the things that Max Hastings wrote about previous winners. Here is an op-ed piece in the Ottowa Citizen that is more in line with my thinking. The Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel who donated part of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes left only one criterion for awarding the price--that it should go to whomever did the most to create peace during that year. To my mind there are two categories of recipients who should have first call on peace prizes: those national leaders who make compromises in order for peace to be achieved and mediators who facilitate peace agreements.

The latter category has gone out of favor in recent years. Henry Kissinger received a peace prize along with Le Duc Tho for making peace in Vietnam--actually for withdrawing so that North Vietnam could go on to conquer South Vietnam. Kissinger never received a peace prize for his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East from October 1973 to August 1975 that resulted in a ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War and three separation-of-forces agreements between Israel and its neighbors. He also received no prize for his 1976 shuttle diplomacy in Southern Africa to win settlements in Rhodesia and Namibia. He failed in this aim but did advance the process in Rhodesia by getting Prime Minister Ian Smith to concede majority rule. Since then among mediators only Jimmy Carter has won a Nobel Peace Prize, a quarter century after he mediated the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Talk about timely! Lord Carrington did not win a peace prize for negotiating an end to the war in Rhodesia and majority rule for Zimbabwe. I think this is because the Nobel Committee feels that this is what public officials are paid to do and they do it in order to serve the national interest and so they should not receive nor expect further recognition in the form of prizes. But the same can be said of national leaders who make concessions for the sake of peace. 

In January 2009 when Barack Obama was nominated for the Peace Prize within a week of being inaugurated as president and later won, two mediators from the Clinton administration who had successfully mediated major peace agreements had not been recognized. Realizing that this unearned peace prize could be a handicap for Obama (disclosure I voted for Obama in 2008 and intend to vote for him again) I wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and suggested that she get Obama to hold a press conference in which he would split his peace prize purse equally between George Mitchell, who mediated the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, and Richard Holbrooke, who mediated the Dayton Accords ending the Bosnian civil war in October 1995. I never received a reply from Clinton. Holbrooke was a good friend of hers and both were on the short list to be secretary of state if John Kerry had won in 2004.

Like Hastings I believe that peace prizes should be awarded for accomplishments and not for aspirations. They should first have to achieve an agreement or at least advice the peace process significantly. So it is appropriate for the Nobel Committee to wait a year or two to see if the agreement pans out--but not a quarter of a century. Jimmy Carter merited a peace prize on his own for what he did and not in order to embarrass President George W. Bush, which was said to be its intention.

I also have reservations about giving peace prizes to former terrorist leaders when there is no contrition or remorse for violating the wars of warfare to advance their cause. Arafat was awarded a peace prize for the Oslo agreement and then reverted to type in 2000. Gerry Adams did not receive a peace prize--it went to John Hume of the SDLP and David Trimble of the UUP instead. Maybe Adams deserved one. He at least did not revert to terrorism AFTER the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998. 

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