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Tradition of Controversial Peace Prizes Spurs Debate With AM-Nobel-Literature, Bjt

October 13, 1994

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A string of controversial Nobel peace prizes has some critics asking whether the coveted award has more to do with politics than peace.

Predictions that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin will share this year’s prize, to be announced Friday in Oslo, have fired the latest debate. One Nobel committee member reportedly threatened to quit in protest.

Many Jewish groups regard Arafat as a terrorist, despite the historic peace accord he signed with Rabin last year in a White House ceremony.

″This is a perilous road for the Nobel committee to take,″ said Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Hier said a prize to Arafat ″means that if (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein suddenly entered into peace talks with the Kuwaitis, he could then head on to Oslo to pick up his Nobel.″

A Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet suggested it was time to do away with the prize, worth $930,000 this year.

″All the commotion about the prize almost every year is linked to the Nobel committee’s insistence - with a mule’s stubbornness - on making the prize political,″ said Aftonbladet.

″What is it that the committee is honoring?″ asked the newspaper on Wednesday. ″Seldom a life’s work in the service of peace, when they decide to concentrate on the politically spectacular.″

Each award since 1989 has gone to active political figures, such as African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and South Africa President F.W. de Klerk last year, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990.

All have caused controversy.

But the secretary of the Nobel peace committee defended honoring active politicians as a tradition that goes back to the early days of the prize, first awarded in 1901.

″Look at the prize to Roosevelt in 1906,″ said nonvoting secretary, Geir Lundestad.

Theodore Roosevelt was U.S. president when he won the prize and had become a war hero with his ″Rough Riders″ on Cuba during the Spanish American War.

″There have been many winners with dark things about their past, but they have managed to raise themselves above them. That is the point,″ Lundestad said Thursday.

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