An October (sur)prize? The candidate for re-election and the news out of Oslo
by Amir Oren
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, without whom Germany and Japan would not have been defeated in World War II, never got it (and neither has his partner, Winston Churchill). Nor did it fall in Ronald Reagan’s lap, or George H. W. Bush’s, for their part in ending the Cold War, though Mikhail Gorbachev did get it. Could Donald Trump, basking in his role as the go-between in the United Arab Emirates normalization agreement with Israel, be that rare U.S. President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
it may seem a bit far-fetched, but there are already calls – to be sure, by supporters of Trump and of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – to let Trump, with or without Netanyahu, get the ultimate recognition of having advanced peace on earth. It may seem improbable, but is in fact not impossible, as it all comes down to a vote by a half-dozen politicians.
Trump, who fancies his visage on Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, would love to join TR, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama as the only Anerican Presidents to have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize. Vice President Al Gore, Secretaries of State such as Henry Kissinger and other diplomats do not count, in this column. The rivalry, especially with Obama, and most especially now that Joe Biden of “The Obama-Biden Administration” is leading in the polls, is at the top.
No President has ever been credited by the prize for his part in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. An American, Ralph Bunche, won for working as a UN official to achieve the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Canadian Lester Pearson followed him by coming up with the 1957 UN Emergency Force along the Sinai and Gaza borders – the very force whose withdrawal due to an Egyptian demand and UN hasty acquiescence precipitated the 1967 war.
Carter did not join Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in recognition for the peace agreement the trio hatched at Camp David. He had to wait almost another quarter century to get the prize for decades of work for peace, democracy and human rights, in general. When Bill Clinton hosted Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for a White House ceremony celebrating the Israeli-Palestinian accord, he too was absent when time came for sharing the prize with the two Middle-Eastern leaders. There was indeed a third winner, though – Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Rabin’s old rival turned partner, who pulled strings and managed to have equal billing with the leading decision-makers.
It all had to do, of course, with the Oslo process. Not a Geneva process, or a Vienna one – these may be the traditional European venues for diplomacy, but neither Switzerland nor Austria have anything to do with Nobel prizes. Only Sweden, for most of them, and Norway, for the peace prize, have the ability to confer the honor. Thus, it was a happy coincidence for Peres and his associates, when they started their tentative contacts with Arafat’s lieutenants through mutual Norwegian acquaintances. Oslo would be both the launching pad and the parade ground of this agreement, which in 27 years has gone from high hopes to low expectations.
Obama got his prize, and surprize, as an advance towards a vision he was hardly in office to fulfill and eventually failed to deliver – a world with zero nuclear weapons. By that standard, how eligibile is Trump, who failed to get any substantial agreement, such as the one he aspired to with North Korea?
A potential answer lies in the mechanics of winning the coveted award. The two crucial elements are make-up and time-table. Five Norwegians, chosen by the Storting, their Parliament, look at the hundreds of names submitted by politicians and organizations around the world. This year, 318 names were filed; surely Trump is among them. The deadline is late February for most nominators, early March for members of the prize committee itself. Between March and August, they debate and prepare a short-list. The actual vote, with three of the five needed for a decision, is held and announced in October.
For Trump to be considered, he would have to first survive the cut and end up on the short-list. Perhaps this is one reason he announced his “vision for peace” between Israelis and Palestinians in late January. While it did not meet immediate success, and was rejected out of hand by one of the presumed parties, it nevertheless had the potential to take off later on. This may not be prize timber, but it could justify landing on the short-list, awaiting further developments in the months ahead.
Once a candidate is among the finalists, the rationale could be adjusted – we came for the Palestinians but stayed for the Emiratis. This would explain the mix of pressures and incentives by the Trump Administration as it tries to coax Gulf regimes and others (Sudan) to upgrade their relations with Israel, or at least attend with great fanfare White House ceremonies celebrating somene else’s event – be a guest at a Brith Mila rather than submit to the circumcision itself. The beauty of it is, the entire audience to be impressed is a trio of Norwegian politicians. Surely, there are ways to reach them and explain the wisdom of such choice.
Netanyahu, with his legal problems, would certainly love to share the prize with Trump, but for that he too would have had to first be on the short-list, for which there could be little justification. Ditto Emirati chief Ben Zaid. Netanyahu is also far from being a Norwegian favorite, working as he is to undo the Oslo process. For Trump, this is less important. Netanyahu and Ben Zaid could be his guests at the December ceremony.
By that time, Trump will either be re-elected or rejected by American voters. But even a loss, and being passed over in Oslo this year, may not be the end of the road. There is also next year, with the 2021 prize, and those Republicans who are getting ready to fight for their party’s nomination in 2024 should not count a defeated Trump out. He may very well spoil for a rematch with Biden, or whoever the Democrats nominate, and aim for a comeback only one of his predecessors, Grover Cleveland, ever managed. A Nobel Peace Prize would be a handy prop.