Calling on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to make new efforts to "secure a future without war to the war-exhausted people of the Middle East," the Norwegian Nobel Committee yesterday awarded its 1978 Peace Prize jointly to the two leaders for the progress they have already made in ending 30 years of Arab-Israeli warfare.
In a citation that openly declared its political intention of spurring the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations along by extending the honor to both men now, the committee also warmly praised President Carter's "great role" in bringing Sadat and Begin together at the Camp David summit last month.
Carter was also nominated for the prize, but well after the February deadline for formal nominations had passed, Aase Lionaess, head of the Nobel committee, told reporters in announcing the award in Oslo.
The announcement triggered mixed reaction around the globe. It brought elation in Israel. But in a more subdued Egyptian response, Cairo Radio failed to mention that Sadat would have to share his long-coveted award with Begin. Eygptian editors voiced disappointment over the split prize.
Sadat's Arab critics and right-wing extremists in Israel predictably condemned the granting of the Nobel prize in recognition of the two agreements worked out at Camp David in September as a framework for peace. The Palestine Liberation Organization declared that the Middle East "will remain explosive" despite the award to "two fascists with a black history."
Ironies abounded in the decision to grant the prize for a peace agreement that is still tentative. The announcement came as the Carter Administration and Begin remained locked in an angry public dispute that has temporarily stalled progress on the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that Begin and Sadat agreed at Camp David to sign before Dec. 17.
In a brief message to Begin and Sadat, Carter coupled his congratulations "for his honor you so fully deserve" with the exhortation that "the work you have done so far must not be left uncompleted."
Both Sadat and Begin arrived at the peace table by way of careers strongly marked by violence. Begin was a leader of an anti-British terrorist organization during Israel's war for independence, and Sadat, a career army officer who helped plot the 1952 coup against King Farouk, started the October 1973 war against Israel. Ironically, it was this war that ultimately led to the peace drive that wound up in Camp David.
The declared political intention of the award brought the Nobel committee directly into an active conflict for the second time in five years. In 1973, the committee split the prize between then secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho for their negotiations to end "a gruesome war" in Vietnam.
The 1973 prize, which Le Duc Tho refused to accept, was offered with the committee's explicitly stated hope that both sides would respect the cease-fire agreements reached in Paris that year. The conflict in Vietnam continued until the complete victory of North Vietnam in April 1975.
The citation that accompanies this year's joint prize specifically congratulates Sadat for his "historic visit" to Jerusalem in November 1977, which "forced a breach in the psychological wall which for a whole generation had blocked understanding and human contact between Egypt and Israel."
It also offers specific praise of Carter's "positive initiative" in getting the Camp David agreements, which it says "represent in themselves a victory for the idea of peace in this part of the world."
Begin's contributions, however, are not specified, and his inclusion appears to be related more to the committee's hopes for the future than its evaluation of the Israeli prime minister's role up until now.
"Essential negotiations still remain before the idea of peace is anchored in political binding agreements, which can secure a future without war to the war-exhausted people of the Middle East," the citation declared.
"By the award of the peace prize for 1978 to Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, the Nobel Committee wishes not only to honor actions already performed in the service of peace, but also to encourage further efforts to work out practical solutions which can give reality to those hopes of a lasting peace, as they have been kindled by the framework agreements."
The choice was made by a committee of five Norwegians chosen by Norway's Parliament, which does not oversee the committee after it is chosen. Lionaess, the politican who heads the panel, is widely known in Norway as an ardent advocate for Israel who reportedly has blocked prizes in the past of statesmen she judged to be too friendly to the Arab cause.
Sadat is the first Arab and Begin the first Israeli to be chosen for the prize, which carries a cash award of about $165,000 that the two leaders will divide. A spokesman for Sadat announced last night that the Egyptian leader will donate his share of the prize to his home village of Met Abul Komim the Nile Delta.
Established in 1901 by Alfred Nobel from the fortunes he made in the manufacture of dynamite and in producing oil in the Soviet Union, the prizes are formally awarded each year on Dec. 10 in Oslo University's Festival Hall.The recipients are invited to receive the gold medals, checks and citations and to deliver lectures at the ceremony.
If the peace treaty has still not been signed by Dec. 10, the requested appearances of Sadat and Begin could take on major significance for the peace process that the award is intended to crown.
Moreover, some initial reactions suggested that the poltical impact the prize committee openly sought may not be as clear-cut as it had hoped.
From Jerusalem, Washington Post correspondent William Claiborne reported that an aide who answered Begin's telephone said the prime minister was "extremely excited" by the news but would not break the Jewish Sabbath by coming to the phone to comment.
Another Begin aide put the award in the context of the disputes that have broken out between the White House and Begin over differing interpretations of what was agreed at Camp David about the future of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
"Carter is going to have to talk to Begin with a little more respect now," said the aide, who declined to be identified.
Egyptians were openly angered that Sadat, whose trip opened the way for the peace drive, had to share the prize.
"I cannot believe that Begin was awarded half the prize," said Ali Hamdi Gammal, editor of the Cairo newspaper Al Ahram. "What has Begin done to earn this apart from placing obstacles in the way of peace?"
West Bank Arabs voiced skepticism. "Where is the peace?" asked Elias Freij, Christian mayor of Bethlehem. "What kind of peace is it? Is there peace between Sadat and Begin?"
Geula Cohen, a former Begin ally who has split with him because of the Camp David agreements, echoed this sentiment in Israel by saying, "Receiving the prize doesn't mean real peace, as we have seen already with Kissinger's Nobel Prize for the Vietnam peace."
Such doubts were overshadowed, however, by the outpouring of congratulations and praise for the two leaders, and for Carter, whose contributions at Camp David were described by many commentators as easily equal to those of Begin and Sadat.