WASHINGTON (JTA) — The chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee cited President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world and his push for Israeli-Arab peace in explaining its decision to award him the prize.
“One of the first things he did was to go to Cairo to try to reach out to the Muslim world, then to restart the Mideast negotiations and then he reached out to the rest of the world through international institutions," Thorbjorn Jagland said in Oslo last Friday after announcing that Obama had won the prize.
Obama was a surprise pick; he is just nine months into his presidency and has yet to achieve a major international agreement. Jagland said the committee wanted to "enhance" Obama’s efforts.
The formal citation notes Obama’s "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" and his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."
In a speech at the White House, Obama said he would accept the award as a "call to action" in many areas, including pursuing Middle East peace.
We must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own," said Obama.
A number oif Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, congratulated the president, reported Ha’aretz.
"You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses the hope that your presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation," Netanyahu said.
But Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said the award was "strange" and worried that Obama could pressure Israel into a peace agreement now that he had won the prize.
The National Jewish Democratic Council praised the choice of Obama, as did a number of pro-Israel groups including Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shaloml.
"President Obama deserves recognition and praise for making Middle East peace a top U.S. foreign policy priority from his first moments in the Oval Office," Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir said in a statement released last Friday. "We hope that winning the prestigious prize will further energize the President and his aides to push for peace between Israel and her neighbors."
Obama will receive the $1.4 million prize in Oslo on Dec. 10.