George Mitchell, the US diplomat who brokered the Good Friday agreement in 1998, once called the process “700 days of failure and one day of success”. This remark, which reflects the long trudge towards peace, would resonate with UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who has been working for more than a year to end the war in Yemen.
Mr Griffiths promised that the warring sides – Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels, who seized a large chunk of the country in 2014 – would reach an agreement by the end of last year. On that, he was correct. The Stockholm agreement of last December offered a roadmap for a political solution in Yemen, prioritising prisoner swaps to build confidence and a ceasefire in the vital Red Sea port city of Hodeidah – where most of Yemen’s food and aid lands. However, given its strategic significance, Hodeidah has been a sticking point ever since, while war has continued to rage across the rest of the country.
The government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi accuses the rebels of fabricating a handover of the port to coastguards, and Mr Griffiths of siding with the Houthis. With the surprise resignation of Yemen’s foreign minister Khalid Al Yamani last week, the fragile peace process now appears to be in even greater jeopardy. Mr Griffiths might have been too eager to place his trust in the Houthis, but he is not to blame for the continuation of this crisis.
Amid the political deadlock, it is ordinary Yemenis who continue to suffer. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, at least 250,000 people have been displaced in the six months since the Stockholm agreement was signed. Meanwhile, at least 500 non-combatants have been killed since December, representing a rise of one-third in the casualty toll. Millions are on the brink of famine and millions more are contending with the threat of a cholera outbreak.
All sides should be committed to finding a solution, to alleviate the extreme suffering in Yemen. And yet, the Iran-backed Houthis struck Abha airport in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, injuring 26. The Houthi leadership cannot be trusted and continue to test the international community’s patience, but Mr Griffiths must be given all the support possible to bring about a political solution. The Stockholm agreement still offers the greatest opportunity for peace.
Beneath the bluster, all sides know that a political solution is the only option moving forward. The bloodshed and turmoil in Yemen will continue until that point is reached. The Stockholm agreement laid a path for a political transition and towards a lasting peace. For the sake of Yemenis, the warring parties must see it through. If they do, Mr Griffiths might also reflect on hundreds of days of failure – and one day of success.