Hassan Nasrallah, left, meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2005. Photo courtesy of Khamenei.ir.
If the Nobel Committee is committed to celebrating peace, then it will award the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to one of the most principled and dedicated statesmen, activists and champions of human rights of this generation: Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Historically, the prize has been awarded to actors (or organizations) that have led major negotiations or led nonviolent resistance movements.
Often maligned as being a dogmatic firebrand, Nasrallah does not reject diplomacy or nonviolence outright. In the early 2000’s he helped to negotiate the release of hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in multiple exchanges with the Israeli government. Shias, prior to the creation of Hezbollah, were marginalized by the Sunni majority especially during Ottoman rule and were underrepresented in government; Nasrallah gave Shias a voice in Lebanese politics.
In the aftermath of the Cedar Revolution, when Lebanon was fraught with sectarian tension, Nasrallah managed to bring together Shias and Christians to form a coalition government that reformed the flawed and corruption-prone confessional system. He established a strong social safety net building schools, hospitals and outreach programs for Lebanese citizens and after the Israeli war in 2006 helped to rebuild most of the homes destroyed in Lebanon during the war.
However, even if Nasrallah was unwilling to negotiate, that should not automatically disqualify him as a Nobel candidate. The focus on negotiations and nonviolence by the Nobel Committee is short-sighted. Negotiations are often the final step in resolving long and destructive conflicts. The groundwork for the negotiations must be laid before negotiation can began, and some Peace Prize winners, including Nelson Mandela, were aware of this.
It is important to take into consideration the conditions that precipitated Hezbollah’s rise: Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Even former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak acknowledges that, with regards to the Israeli occupation in 1982, “it was our presence there that created Hezbollah.” He helped to expel Israel from Lebanon not only unifying Sunnis, Shias and Christians in Lebanon, but Arabs all over the Middle East.
Some critics of Nasrallah argue that though Hezbollah’s origins may be noble, they have devolved into reckless adventurism. The 2006 war with Israel and intervention in the Syrian Civil War in particular have drawn heavy criticism. The 2006 incursion into Israel should be put into proper context. There were many Lebanese and Palestinian militants in Israeli prisons after the defeat of the Southern Lebanon Army and Nasrallah wanted to pressure Israel into releasing them.
The conflict has spilt over into Lebanon, and America and Israel have provided support for the FSA which contained elements of Jahbat Al Nusra – a jihadist group intent on spreading a radical form of Wahhabist Sunni Islam. The threats he has made as of late claiming that he is capable of destroying Israeli ammonia plants in Haifa, aggressive as they seem, are critical in maintaining regional stability.
Israel possesses nuclear weapons and is backed by the global superpower. If left unchecked, they would be able to act with impunity across the region. Hassan Nasrallah’s name will be etched in history for being one of the few men dedicated to ensuring that there is real sustainable peace in the Middle East and it behooves the Nobel Committee to recognize this, even if it means putting their obsession with the performance of negotiations to rest.