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John Prendergast

John Prendergast

Posted: November 20, 2009 12:54 PM

From Camp David to Darfur, With 17 Camels

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Two nights ago I went to listen to William Ury, the famous Harvard negotiation specialist and co-author of Getting to Yes. At one point in the speech, he referenced the Camp David peace accords negotiated by President Carter in 1978. Ury talked about a mediation approach called 'single text negotiations,' in which the mediators laid down a draft text and asked the parties to critique it. They went back and forth like this 22 times. After the 22nd text revision, Ury said, President Carter went to both the Israelis and the Egyptians and asked them to accept the document. This required one major courageous compromise rather than a series of smaller requirements that could have blown up the negotiations at any stage.

All I could think about while Ury was talking was why couldn't the U.S. do the same for Darfur? After six years of horrific human rights crimes, when is a draft text going to be presented to the warring parties and other key stakeholders in Darfur? What is stopping the rest of the world from drafting a proposal that contains the basic elements of a solution in that embattled region? PRESIDENT OBAMA, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? With the right proposal, backed by the right leverage, a deal can be struck. How long do the Darfuri people have to wait?

Professor Ury reminded the audience of the old story of the 17 camels. Three sons inherit 17 camels. Their deceased father's instructions present a quandry: the eldest son is to receive half the camels, the second son one-third of the camels, and the third son one-ninth of the camels. But dividing 17 camels in this way produces 8.5, 5.67 and 1.89 camels, respectively, for the three sons. So they argued and argued about how to fix this conundrum.

An older lady heard of their dispute and she offered the one camel that she owned to the three brothers. Once they had 18 camels, they were able to divide them according to their father's wishes: 9, 6, and 2, respectively, for a total of 17. They were able to resolve their dispute peacefully and give the 18th camel back to the elderly lady.

Sometimes, a peace process needs someone to figure out the 18th camel. That is the role the U.S. could play but won't be until we get a draft proposal on the table so the various stakeholders can start reacting to something real.

President Obama, bring the 18th camel to Darfur and let's help give peace a chance.

 

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