Who gave peace a chance?

Ev’rybody’s talking about Revolution, evolution, mastication, flagellation, regulation, integrations, meditations, United Nations, Congratulations. All we are saying is give peace a chance  (“Give Peace a Chance”, John Lennon, 1969)

If the unexpected happens and there is peace in the Middle East next year, US Foreign Secretary John Kerry will be a worthy recipient of the next Nobel Peace Prize. If that happens, I will be happy to share some of the prize money. Let me explain.

Every peace process needs a soundbite, a selling pitch and a narrative. In the past, they have all failed. Who could seriously believe in ”land for peace”? To me, that sounds more like a death threat than a real desire to live in peace.  A radical new approach is needed.

– Everybody needs to not react, the normal sort of tit- for-tat, stereotypical way, Give peace a chance, by providing some opening here for the politics and the diplomacy to work.

These were the words of the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry, as he addressed the US Congress about the struggling peace process in the Middle East on April 17th. A few months later, the peace talks, which had been stranded for years, were off to a new and promising start. What has happened in the meantime? Probably a number of things – but let me focus on one of them.  A brand new sales pitch that says it all – ‘Give peace chance´!

The new buzzwords, introduced by Kerry, have now been adopted also by the Israeli Prime Minister, as well as by the President of Israel. No more unrealistic demands or intimidating threats, but a simple request – not to rule out anything, but to hope for the impossible, and, – to quote John Lennon, give peace a chance.

If Kerry wins the Nobel Peace Prize, the late John Lennon would obviously have to be credited for his inspiration: but what about others? When Prime Minister Netanyahu made his landmark speech in the Knesset at the beginning of June, and suddenly switched to English to ask Mahmoud Abbas to give peace a chance, the media pundits immediately began to speculate about his connection to John Lennon. Had the Prime Minister suddenly become a fan of the icon of the generation of peace, love and understanding?

The pundits did not know that it was not the Prime Minister who was the first one to connect the famous lyrics of John Lennon to the Middle East Peace Process. US Foreign Secretary, John Kerry had uttered these magic words some one and a half month before. In his famous speech in the US Congress, where he suddenly hesitated and seemed to be searching for words. (See video clip here.) He then chuckles as he utters the famous phrase attributed to John Lennon. How did this happen? Well, let´s call it a chain reaction and – this is where my part of the prize money comes in.

In the summer of 2011, our organisation, European Coalition for Israel, had produced a 15 minute video film about the preconditions for peace in the Middle East. Together with the young and talented Dutch film producer, Leenard Fieret, we brainstormed about the name of the video. We wanted to avoid anything that would come across as pretentious or predictable, but landed on ”Give Peace a Chance”, the anthem of the anti-Vietnam war movement. This did in fact become the name of the short film which has since been viewed in national parliaments from Tokyo to Brussels and on YouTube as well as on television channels around the world. The last request we received for permission to broadcast the film came from Indonesia. The message of the short film is simple. In order to give peace a chance in the Middle East, one needs to recognize and respect previous commitments made to the Jewish people under international law, in order to find a common basis for peace and understanding.

In late March, I was contacted by a close friend, who took me aside and whispered in my ears that he now knew for a fact that the US Foreign Secretary had watched the full 15 minute video and that he apparently liked it. Some time later, on April 17th, to be exact, in one of those rare moments when searching for the right words in order to come up with something fresh and new, he utters these famous words – ’Give Peace a Chance´.  It is not for me to say how the Foreign Secretary will explain his choice of words. Was he suddenly thinking back on the summer of 1970 when he, after having served in Vietnam, joined the Vietnam Veterans against the war? Or was it simply something that came up subconsciously as he had recently watched a film about the peace process with a rather unconventional title? I choose to believe in the latter.

One thing is clear. His choice of words at that very moment may have put the peace process back on track. A few months later, Netanyahu caught the new tune and only some time later Shimon Peres joined the choir.

Yes, I know my story is somewhat incomplete. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has yet to come out and join the Give Peace a Chance movement but at least he is willing to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. That is good enough for me.

I may never find out how exactly we have contributed to the Middle East peace process. Perhaps it was all a coincidence but honestly, I do not care. If John Kerry manages to bring peace to the Middle East, the Nobel Peace prize is his and his alone. And on second thoughts, he can also keep the prize money.


About the Author
Tomas Sandell is a Finnish journalist who has been accredited by the European Union. He is today the Founding Director of European Coalition for Israel.
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