A new route to peace in Yemen

The international community must not give up hope that there can be peace in Yemen. AFP
The international community must not give up hope that there can be peace in Yemen. AFP

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced a plan it hopes will bring to an end Yemen's civil war, as well as the Saudi-led military coalition's involvement in it. The plan prioritises a ceasefire, as well as measures to bring desperately-needed aid into the country immediately.

In a conflict long plagued by diplomatic disappointment, this initiative will seem ambitious. But momentum is strong, particularly as a result of determination among the Saudi-led coalition, GCC countries, the Biden administration and the UN. This confluence of determination dares the Houthis to participate in a re-invigorated peace process, and shows the country's population that the world has not given up on them. As the conflict enters its seventh year, Yemen cannot afford for the world to lose interest.

Clearly defining an enduring framework for Yemen's stability will sustain any potential peace into the future, providing an incentive to stay politically engaged for even the most belligerent parties. The Saudi deal puts on the table the many benefits all sides stand to win if they enter the process with good faith. These include a constructive political process between the internationally-recognised Hadi government and the Houthis, and the more practical necessities of re-opening both Houthi-controlled Sanaa International Airport and the port of Hodeidah, vital entry points for much needed-food and fuel imports.

The Houthis have recently launched a costly assault on Yemen's Marib province. EPA
The Houthis have recently launched a costly assault on Yemen's Marib province. EPA

As the conflict enters its seventh year, Yemen cannot afford for the world to lose interest

The Houthis have, in the first instance, rejected the proposal, describing it as "nothing new". But this round of negotiations is merely beginning. Saudi Arabia has acknowledged ongoing communications with the Houthis via the government of Oman, indicating some commitment from both sides to find a solution.

The Houthis have plenty of reasons to engage. They have sustained heavy losses in a recent campaign in Marib Province, and given their unpopularity in large parts of the country, the group stands to become nothing more than the hostage-takers of Yemen if they continue to reject a political solution.

The list of Houthi atrocities in Yemen runs very long, and the group's extremist ideology and governance model are not a viable roadmap for the country's success. The Houthis will have to concede power, but will also have to be part of the solution. The question becomes how to accommodate that reality, as well as the visions of various other armed groups in the conflict, in a way that ensures the country's sovereign future and empowers all Yemenis.

A federal structure, in which strong local governance counterbalances the power of the central government, is likely to prove the best way forward. It recognises the aspirations of Yemen's firmly ingrained regional identity groups while safeguarding a unified state. It would also diminish the appeal of separatism. But in the end it will be for the Yemenis to decide.

There are no perfect solutions in a conflict as complex and bloody as Yemen's. But there can, and now is, momentum behind the idea that the suffering of the past seven years can end definitively.

Published: March 24, 2021 07:00 AM

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