Former Polish president and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa probably summed up the reaction of many in Israel when he responded to the stunning announcement Oct. 9 that President Barack Obama won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize by saying, “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far.”
Granting the award at this point in time to Obama, 48 and — as one pundit pointed out — just five years out of the Illinois state senate, is like giving an adolescent a lifetime achievement award; inducting a star football player fresh out of college into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; or appointing a first–year lawyer to the Supreme Court.
Maybe during his tenure Obama will indeed do something to merit the award, but to say that he already has done so badly stretches credulity.
There is, however, a school of thought that maintains the peace prize is not only to reward people for achievements already accomplished, but rather to help them in the future, give them a strong tailwind pushing them forward toward their goals.
Obama himself acknowledged this when he said, upon accepting the award, “The Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement — it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.”
In this context, official words of praise coming from Jerusalem to Obama are probably not of the most genuine type.
It is hard to believe that Israeli government ministers jumped for joy when they heard the news, the words of congratulations from President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak notwithstanding.
From Jerusalem’s point of view the prize could be problematic on two counts: the first in relation to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, and the second having to do with Iran.
Regarding the peace process, an Obama crowned with the peace prize will be even more difficult to say “no” to than an Obama without the peace prize.
More difficult, but, of course, not impossible.
For just as the Saudis are unlikely to heed Obama’s calls to make normalization gestures to Israel, and the Palestinians are unlikely to do as Obama says and sit down immediately with Israel to negotiate just because the Nobel Prize committee gave him this honor, surely Israel need not bend now to his every will and dictate.
Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002, and government officials — with the exception of Peres — refuse to meet with him when he comes to the region.
Máiread Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland, co-winner of the 1976 award, regularly rides one of the Free Gaza
boats from Cyprus with an assemblage of other extreme leftists.
But still. Carter is not a sitting president, and Corrigan-Maguire — well, who really cares.
But in many corners of the world, and especially in Europe, the Nobel Peace Prize will grant Obama even more luster and moral authority than he already has, and when Israel says no to him — as it inevitably will to some of his demands — it will be portrayed as spitting in the face not only of an American president, but also of an internationally recognized champion of peace.
The Saudis and Palestinians, of course, will come under no such opprobrium for bucking Obama’s will.
And then there is the question of Iran. By giving Obama the award, rather than — as the Washington Post suggested — to the Iranian democratic movement or posthumously to Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed protesting the election there, the Nobel committee seemed to be trying to steer Obama away from any confrontation with Iran.
Imagine the headlines in Oslo if the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner approved the launch of a preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Within the Iranian context, giving Obama the prize now is like parents giving their child who just got a driver’s license $10,000 for not going over the speed limit.
This would be a preventive gift, with the parents hoping recollection of the cash would keep the kid from speeding in the future.
If Obama was unlikely to OK any military activity against Iran to keep it from getting nuclear weapons capabilities before the award, giving him the award now seems an attempt to handcuff him even further.
In Jerusalem, at least, that is cause for concern, not celebration.
Herb Keinon is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, where this column first appeared.