Which questions are best for creating peace?

Which Are The Best Questions to Create Peace

In this article, we learn some lessons from Jimmy Carter, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, and one of history’s most underestimated negotiators. 

Resolving the deadlock 

President Carter was the chief negotiator behind the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. Signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, it is widely regarded as the only negotiation outcome in the Arab–Israeli conflict that was successfully implemented and is still being honoured by both parties.  

After intense negotiations, a number of significant outcomes were agreed: Israel gave the Sinai territory back to Egypt, Egypt installed a demilitarised zone in the Sinai, and both countries agreed to mutually recognise each other and cease the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. 

Asking questions 

At first the parties’ negotiating positions seemed miles away from each other and seemingly irreconcilable. Egyptian President Sadat stated, ‘The Sinai is ours,’ while Israeli Prime Minister Begin said, ‘We will never give up the Sinai.’ 

President Carter asked the parties 3 key questions: Why? How? and What if? 

  • With the Why? question he managed to identify the underlying needs of the 2 parties. In the case of Israel: security and a buffer zone. In the case of Egypt: oil and strategic landmarks. 
  • With the How? question he involved the 2 partners in developing possible solutions and scenarios, which created bartering material for the negotiations. 
  • And with the Queen of Questions – the hypothetical What if? – he initiated a process where both parties could exchange concessions. 

Tips for negotiators 

  • Ask Why? to learn about the other party’s often unstated needs.  
  • Ask How? to encourage the other party to propose possible solutions to your conflict and articulate their desired outcomes.  
  • Ask most useful question of all: What if? This question is a highly effective strategy for engaging the other party in a process of exchange and compromise as you approach the endgame in a negotiation. 

How ENS can help 

ENS consultants work with clients all over the world to help them learn how to negotiate effectively in high-stakes scenarios. Understanding how to take advantage of strategic alliances and change perceptions of power are critical for success.  

Want to know more? 

To discuss this article in more depth and explore how you can develop your negotiation capabilities, contact us on the form below. 


ENS Team
ENS Team

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