Text size

As could have been expected, the surprise decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama was received around the world - including in the recipient's own country - with more than a hint of astonishment and even criticism. Looking back over the short period since Obama entered the White House, it is indeed difficult to identify inspiring achievements by the president toward making peace in the world. Given the variety of global challenges he inherited from his predecessor, and the virtually endless crises facing him, it is neither fair nor logical to try to grade his performance.

Obama's Nobel Prize is more an award for the hope of peace than a sign of recognition for making peace. The committee wrote in explaining its decision: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who believed in solutions through force, Obama has consistently striven for dialogue with enemies based on mutual respect and building on common interests, and by enlisting communities in areas of conflict to battle extremist elements. In this way, the first black president in the history of the United States inaugurated a special effort for rehabilitating the superpower's relations with the Islamic world.

Obama himself said on Friday that he views the prize as a "call to action" and to that end singled out the challenge of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so both peoples may live in security in their own state.

The announcement of the winner came while the president's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, left for another fruitless meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians remain frozen, and the Palestinian peace camp continues to weaken, while Hamas gains strength.

In an interview with Akiva Eldar, published over the weekend in Haaretz, King Abdullah II of Jordan said the lack of progress toward a two-state solution, the expansion of settlements and the violation of the status quo in East Jerusalem are pushing the region into a dark period. The king said that Obama's commitment to advancing regional peace has created a rare opportunity to end this volatile conflict. The Nobel Prize was given to the president as an incentive to realize that commitment.