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How the Nobel Peace Prize Works

It is just about 15 years since Yasir Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize. Everybody understood that the two leaders of the State of Israel who shared the award with him, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, actually deserved it. But Arafat's primary deed in life was to be a terrorist. A tactician of terror and a strategist of terrorism. Thinking about Arafat in the royal palace made me cringe then. When I went to Al Gore's installation two years ago, I could not get out of my head that the rais had stood in the same spot, a usurper and a fraud. It was he who denied the Palestinians a state in 2000 and 2001 by refusing Ehud Barak's far-too-generous terms, terms which will never be offered again. Never. This is Arafat's real achievement: He protected Israel from its own good will.

But it is not Arafat's prize that absorbs us now. It is Barack Obama's. Edward Jay Epstein knows about the quotidian rules of the honors. Here they are:

“I did some research on the Nobel Peace Prize for my book on Armand Hammer (He tried to buy it in 1989 but, though on the short list, lost by a few votes to the 14th Dalai Lama). Here is the story in brief:

“Arms dealer and dynamite-inventor Alfred Nobel specified in his will that the Peace Prize should be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

“According to the terms of his will, this prize is awarded by a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament and presented annually in Oslo on December 10, which is the anniversary of Nobel's death.

“It is easy to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, since nominations can be made by any members of national assemblies and governments, the International Court of Justice, or any university professors of history, political science, philosophy, law and theology.

“Nominations must usually be submitted to the Committee by February 1 of the year in question (So Obama was nominated less than 2 weeks after he became President.)

“In 2009, a record 205 nominations were received. Unlike the Oscars or Golden Globe awards, The Committee keeps the nominations secret and asks that nominators do the same for several years. (When the past nominations were released, it was discovered that Adolf Hitler was nominated in 1939, as were Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.)

“Nominations are considered by the Nobel Committee at a meeting by permanent advisers to the Nobel institute, which consists of the Institute's Director and Research Director and a small number of Norwegian academics with expertise in subject areas relating to the prize. The 5-man Committee then selects the laureate. Even though it seeks a unanimous decision, the winner may receive a simple majority of 3 votes.”