The instant reaction of many people when hearing of the decision to award this
year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was one of surprise. One only had
to read the many blogs and facebook discussions to see that there were many who
questioned this decision, not least those who immediately mentioned Europe’s
long history of internal warfare and bloodshed, not least the two World Wars and
the atrocities of the Holocaust.
But the award was not, as has been
misperceived, to Europe the continent, but to the European Union. It was awarded
specifically to an organization of countries which had come together precisely
because of the continent’s past history, in an attempt to ensure that the
warfare, violence and bloodshed of the past would not be repeated in the
Few people believed, back in the 1950s, that the dreams of Robert
Schuman and a small group of pro- Europeanists would succeed in uniting the
major European powers into a single economic and political entity. What started
as a relatively low-scale customs union of six countries at the Treaty of Rome
in 1956 has, over a period of almost 60 years, become transformed into an
economic and political union of nearly 30 countries.
There are so many
positives. Internal borders have been removed, a single European passport
exists, there is free movement of labor, and Europe is identified by a younger
generation as much by the single European flag with its circle of stars, as are
the individual symbols of the separate countries.
And there are negatives
too. Europe is undergoing a major financial crisis. The stability of the single
Euro currency is in danger. There are many who question whether the EU rushed
ahead too quickly in the enlargement process, especially when most of the
countries who have joined in recent years have all been economically weak, thus
creating a greater imbalance between the “haves” and the “have nots,” despite
the EU efforts to bring the poorer regions in line with the more developed as
part of its regional policy.
There are some other negatives which have
recently reared their ugly heads, not least the tightening of anti-immigration
policy from outside the EU and the inability of most countries to come to grips
with the growing Islamic populations who have settled in Europe during the past
This has given rise to a renewal of right-wing, xenophobic
political parties and a reported increase in incidents of anti-Semitism in some
countries. But it is precisely the strength of a pan-European opposition to a
growth in fascism which has enabled European countries to deal with this, where
they failed in the period prior to World War II.
DESPITE ITS current
economic problems, the current political stability – even in countries
experiencing democratic political protest such as Greece and Spain – remains
unchallenged. The borders remain, and will remain, open. There is no political
fear, threat or tension between any of the member countries. The EU experiment
has proved that through a gradual process of economic and cultural unification,
and the creation of a common system of laws and regulations relating to human
rights, quality of life and standards, peoples and countries who were constantly
at war with each other can come together.
By de-emphasizing nationalism,
jingoism and exclusivity, and replacing it with a concern for the common daily
life concerns of people, regardless of which country they live in, the EU has
indeed proved to be one of the greatest peace success stories of the post-WWII
This does not, in any way, belittle the many other worthy candidates
for this year’s prize (over 100 of them) ranging from individuals to NGOs and to
world statesmen and leaders. Over the years, the prize has been distributed to a
variety of peace-related people and activities. At the grass roots level, the
prize has been awarded to relatively unknown groups and people who have
succeeded in reaching out beyond the divide and bringing peoples together at the
level of civil society, often in the face of animosity and hatred.
governmental level, the prize has been awarded to diplomats and statesmen who
have negotiated official peace agreements between countries and societies which
have been in bitter conflict for decades, and where it often appeared that there
was no hope of resolving bloody and bitter conflicts.
HERE IN Israel, we
should not forget the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded to prime minister
Menachem Begin along with presidents Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Jimmy Carter of
the US, for the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. And however shaky this
agreement might appear in the wake of the changes in Egypt following the Arab
spring, we should not dismiss the relative stability – albeit a cold peace –
which has lasted between the two countries for the past 30 years. This situation
could not have been dreamt of just a few years previously, in the immediate
aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Nor should we forget the prize
awarded to President Shimon Peres, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and chairman of
the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat for their signing of the Oslo Peace
Accords in 1993 and 1995.
Unlike the peace agreement with Egypt, the Oslo
Agreements remained as far as we ever got with the Palestinians, and peace today
would seem to be as far away, if not further away, than it was at that
In retrospect, the peace prize was awarded too soon, before it
could be ascertained whether the Oslo Agreements would result in a real end to
conflict. But for a short period of time, there was an air of optimism, a belief
that we really could overcome the enmity, make the necessary – but extremely
difficult – compromises, and move ahead toward another era.
huge frustrations at the failure of peace to materialize, the short period of
Oslo proved that when there are leaders who are prepared to seek ways of
overcoming the obstacles (on both sides) instead of creating new ones, nothing
should be considered impossible. At least Peres and Rabin were prepared to seek
the way forward back then in the 1990s – which is a lot more than can be said
for today’s crop of leaders, both in Israel and the Palestinian
The EU is to be congratulated for receiving a well-deserved
honor. Europe is a different continent today than it was 60 years ago, and this
is because of the political stability and the peaceful relations which exist
within the EU. Today’s EU would have been impossible to imagine 60 years ago,
just as a peaceful and stable Middle East might seem impossible to image today.
The animosities and hatreds of that time were as great and seemingly impassable
as those which exist here in the Middle East today. The political and cultural
contexts are vastly different, but the awarding of the prize to the EU is a
signal to the world, and especially to us here in the Middle East, that nothing
I will be the first to nominate, and congratulate, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a Nobel Peace Prize, if and when he makes the
bold moves necessary to bring real peace to this troubled region.
writer is dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion
University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. The views
expressed are his alone.