09/10/2009

Unlocking the Middle East: Obama Rewarded

The main highlight of this week has undoubtedly been the Nobel Peace Prize won, this Friday, by US President Barak Obama. According to the Norwegian head of the Nobel Committee, quoted by the BBC, the result constitutes a legitimate reward for the “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” demonstrated by the current American President. The statements by the Nobel Committee, gathered by the British online news service, lay emphasis on the unique impact of Barak Obama on the current international scene, in which the American president has “created a new climate in international politics”.

Early on Friday morning, President Obama appeared to be “humbled to be selected” when informed of the news, reports CNN. This achievement forms an incredible accomplishment for an American President reaching only the end of his first year at the White House.

In fact, 2009 will be a year for Obama to remember: not only was Barak Obama the first American-African to be elected president, but he now also becomes one of the few members of the highly-regarded group of Nobel Prize winners for his call for global disarmament and efforts to restart peace negotiations in the Middle East, comments CNN. President Obama is only the third sitting American President to be awarded this prestigious accolade, following the footsteps of two other influential presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, respectively rewarded in 1906 and 1919, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.

The Nobel Peace Prize and the Middle East

Fully committed to the Middle East Peace process, in favour of nuclear disarmament and clearly seeking greater mutual understanding and respect between the Muslim world and the West, President Obama has become the driving figure in confronting the major problems associated with the Middle Eastern region.

Calls for global disarmament as well as efforts to re-launch peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, marked by the present visit of US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell to Israel, constituted, according to Israel’s Haaretz, deciding factors in Barak Obama’s achievement of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Indeed, this reward underlines the extent to which Obama regards negotiation and political dialogue have become preferred instruments in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comments the Los Angeles Times.

Quoted in The Washington Post, Hagit Ofran, head of the Israel’s Peace Now movement, emphasizes that President Obama’s determination is highly respected and claims that “it is not peace and it is not enough, but his rhetoric did change many things”. Haaretz quotes Israeli president, Shimon Peres, who feels that peace has become “a real and original agenda” since the start of Obama’s presidency. Similarly, the Chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, strongly supportive of the outcome of the Nobel selection, has toldReuters that Obama “will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East”. Simon Robinson, writing for TIME, suggests that this new influential Nobel platform will, indeed, “add momentum” to Obama’s plans for peace in the Middle East.

Furthermore, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the achievement by President Obama of the Novel Peace Prize is not surprising, bearing in mind the President’s persistent efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. President Obama’s speech given in Cairo in June is recurrently referred as a proof of his commitment to reach out to Muslim people, which theTIME describes as a “first step towards reconciliation”. The Los Angeles Times quotes Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, in underlining the key role played by the American President in setting a “completely new agenda for the Muslim world”.

A question of legitimacy

According to The Washington Post, the news has brought about a number of wary reactions in Israel and across various Muslim countries. Having congratulated the American president, Ahmed Yousef, Hamas deputy foreign minister, underlined, however, that the president has been “judged  based on good intentions towards peace but not on his achievement”, a position shared by Danny Danon, member of the ruling Likud Party.

Quoted by Reuters, Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, accentuated the prematurity of Obama’s achievement, claiming that the American President has, in fact, “not done anything to ensure justice for the sake of Arab and Muslim causes”. A lack of mutual understanding between the West and the Muslim world, as well as persistent tensions across the Middle Eastern region highlight the limited achievements of President Obama and demonstrate that much still remains to be done.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a nine-month old president may seem like an “odd departure”, awarding Obama “on the future delivery of promises”, claims Peter Beaumont for the Guardian. Critics will now set out to question why President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely. Quoted in Le Monde, Lech Walesa, former Nobel Prize winner, have judged this Prize to be premature, as Obama has yet to achieve his first concrete diplomatic breakthrough.

Should « why not? » rather be the question? President Obama has indeed, embodied since his arrival at the Oval Office everything one expects from the most influential president in the world. Having recompensed his previous achievements, one can expect his new prestigious accolade to enhance the legitimacy and provide an influential framework for the success of his future ambitious objectives.

Andrew Bower