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A Man of Peace? Jury Is Still Out : Nobel committee would be premature to tap PLO's Yasser Arafat

October 13, 1994

There are many compelling reasons the world should acknowledge and even reward the recent progress toward peace in the Middle East. That said, however, the decision reportedly made by the Nobel Prize Committee to grant its prestigious 1994 Peace Prize to both Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is both premature and problematic.

A formal announcement by the usually staid and secretive Nobel committee is due Friday in Olso. But already word of Arafat's selection, as well as lingering questions about the long-term viability of the nascent peace process, has justifiably generated controversy.

The last time the Nobel committee created this kind of stir was 1973, when it split the prize between Henry A. Kissinger, secretary of state in the Nixon Administration, and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho. It turned out that peace would not return to Vietnam until two years later, and not without a great deal more bloodshed.

Given that experience, it is indeed peculiar that the committee would move so quickly to honor the likes of Yasser Arafat.

Taking nothing away from last year's historic Israeli-PLO agreement, which called for normalization of relations and began the process of transferring autonomy to the Palestinians in the long-disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are still troubling questions about the PLO leader's commitment to peace.

For one there is Arafat's historical link to terrorism, including the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes taking part in the Olympics at Munich.

Also, it is worth remembering that his sudden cooperative spirit has coincided with the PLO's loss of funding from the Soviet Union and from Persian Gulf states when he sided with Iraq in the Gulf War.

Time will tell if Arafat is truly deserving of the highest peace honor in the world. After all, other leaders in the Middle East--the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin comes to mind--were able to overcome the violent politics of their early years to eventually be regarded as statesmen and even peacemakers. But that time has not yet come for Arafat.

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