Johan Jorgen Holst, posthumously

Johan Jorgen Holst undertook the heroic task of bringing together the Government of the State of Israel and the representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization to journey together on the road to peace… he set the course from face to face dialogue to the historic handshake.

The statue of Johan Jorgen Holst by Per Ung at Akershus castle, Oslo.   

The statue of Johan Jorgen Holst by Per Ung at Akershus castle, Oslo.


Born in Oslo, Norway in 1937, Johan Jorgen Holst was involved in politics and international affairs since his days studying at Columbia University. He held various posts in the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs to the Ministry of Defense, and was briefly Norway’s Foreign Minister. Holst believed strongly in peace, diplomacy, and the idea of an international society. Concerned about the possibility of the Soviet Union raising arms against Norway, Holst worked on the concept of détente, defined as “a relaxing of tension, especially between nations, as by negotiations or agreements,” as an alternative to the deterrence and defense system used to deal with tensions between the East and West. But it was his wife, Marianne Heiberg, who narrowed his broad peace interests to focus on Israel and Palestine. 

Heiberg, whose research was focused in the Middle East, indicated to her husband that both Israel and Palestine were interested in forming a peace agreement, and Holst set to work putting the process into motion. He arranged secret gatherings with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from January to August of 1993, meeting in various and remote locations such as hotels and Holst’s own house. The representatives met with Holst and Heiberg, another couple, and even Holst’s young son Edvard. Edvard, who played with everyone at the meetings, helped to break the ice at times. These casual, informal meeting places helped everyone relax and understand one another as people, as human beings, not just government officials. As a result of Holst’s efforts, an agreement was reached in August of 1993, and an historic peace accord (sometimes called the Oslo Accord) was signed at the White House in September. Holst was there as a guest of honor. 

Sadly, Holst’s work for peace took a toll on his health. In December of 1993, just a few months after the signing of the accord, and less than a year into his tenure as Norway’s Foreign Minister, Holst suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. In early January of 1994, he had another stroke and passed away. 

Johan Jorgen Holst will always be remembered for his efforts to promote peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and posthumously awarded the Truman Peace Prize in 1994. The late PLO leader Yasser Arafat said at the time of Holst’s death that he was “a great peacemaker who engraved the name of Norway in the book of world peace.” 

"The moment he entered the peace process, it was in the center of his life until his last breath.” Those were the words of former Foreign Minister of Israel (now its President) Shimon Peres, describing Johan Jorgen Holst and his efforts in negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. Holst was only 56 when he died, but his impact on the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians marks him as a great peacemaker of his time. 


obituaries: nytimes.com and independent.co.uk