KARE KRISTIANSEN hasn't had new business cards printed yet, so he gave me one of his old ones. Komitemedlem, it says. Den Norske Nobelkomite. Member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
He was, but he's not anymore. On Oct. 14, the day the committee announced that the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize would be shared by Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, Kristiansen announced his resignation. By his lights, honoring Arafat -- a 30-year terrorist, a killer of civilians -- as a Nobel peace laureate would be a reckless moral error. Norwegian law requires that decisions of the committee be unanimous, and Kristiansen could not stifle his objections.
And so, he said a bit wistfully in Boston last week, "I had to leave the most interesting and important committee I had ever been a member of."
He has been a member of many. At 74, Kristiansen is one of Norway's elder statesmen, a longtime leader of its small Christian Democratic Party. He has been a Cabinet minister and a member of Parliament; he reached the pinnacle of his legislative career in 1986, when he was chosen speaker of the Odelsting, the Norwegian House of Commons.
But history will recall Kristiansen less for the groups he joined than for the one he quit; less for the issues on which he led than for the issue on which he dissented.
In Oslo two days hence, Arafat (along with Peres and Rabin) will appear before the King of Norway to receive his prize. Kristiansen will not be present. He has been invited to speak at Hebrew University in Jerusalem on the topic: "Why I Resigned From the Nobel Committee."
Before two university audiences in Boston, Kristiansen gave his speech a pre-Jerusalem tryout.
It was a foregone conclusion, he said, that the 1994 prize would be awarded for the Israel-PLO peace accord. Not because the accord made peace a reality -- it hasn't -- but because it was negotiated in Norway, via the Oslo "back channel." For Norwegians, the Rabin-Arafat handshake at the White House generated tremendous pride, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee (whose members are all Norwegian politicians) never considered bestowing this year's prize for any other achievement.
But Arafat! That posed a problem. In the past, candidates for the prize had been judged on two key criteria: (1) whether peace had been accomplished, and (2) the degree to which the candidates were champions of peace. By neither standard could Yasser Arafat be deemed a Nobel laureate. So the committee members came up with a third test:
"Could the award of the prize in a decisive way" -- this is Kristiansen's paraphrase -- "stimulate the future peace process, and make it succeed in spite of the serious obstacles that were only too obvious?" On this basis, the other judges decided they could justify an award to Arafat.
Kristiansen couldn't. Alfred Nobel's will stipulates that the peace prize be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations." How could that description cover an Arafat, a criminal whose life has been spent arranging the murders of innocent human beings?
A Nobel Committee chairman once enumerated the classes into which peace laureates could be divided: statesmen negotiating around conference tables, defenders of human rights, interpreters of international law, rebels, humanists, pragmatists and dreamers.
"Even under such a vast definition," Kristiansen commented after listing the categories, "there was no room for terrorists. Until now."
By redefining the prize from a citation for past achievement into a spur for future good behavior, the Nobel Committee may have kicked out the moral struts that gave the award its towering authority.
"What consequences will result," Kristiansen wonders, "when a terrorist with such a background is awarded the world's most prestigious prize? . . . Can there be any doubt that this award is going to downgrade the prize and weaken respect for it? . . . What signal will the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a prominent member of 'Terrorism Ltd.' give" to other terrorist groups? "Is it not likely that such an additional stimulant will break still more barriers between good and evil, between vice and virtue, between morality and immorality?"
On Dec. 10, 1964, when Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Prize, he wrestled with the paradox of accepting a prize for peace when the US civil rights movement had obviously not yet achieved "the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize."
But upon reflection, said Dr. King, he realized that his Nobel stood for the proposition "that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression."
This Saturday, 20 years later to the day, the same peace prize will go to one of the cruelest practitioners of violence and oppression and hatred that our generation has known. As Yasser Arafat, butcher of children, steps forward to receive his Nobel, Dr. King will turn over in his grave.
And Kare Kristiansen, whose moral strength outweighs his desire for glory, will be far from his beloved Norway, speaking to the people Arafat has so often tried to kill.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)