Peace proposals dead on arrival in Yemen

Peace proposals dead on arrival in Yemen
Analysis: As Yemen's situation continues to deteriorate, there is little hope that any peace proposal can save it, writes Khalid Al-Karimi
4 min read
07 March, 2018
Opposing sides are willing to see the entire country destroyed instead of backing down [Getty]
Peace initiatives are dead on arrival in Yemen. Late last month, Yemen's Houthis declared a bid to wind up the appalling conflict which has killed thousands of people since 2015.

The initiative signalled an unprecedented flexibility for the Houthi group, which took over Yemen's capital in September 2014. Now the group speaks of elections for the first time to reach reconciliation, with six points to pave the way for peace to return to Yemen.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee in Sanaa, wanted to submit the proposal to the UN. It was named "An Initiative to End the Tragedies Caused by the Aggression on Yemen" - the "aggression" in the title being the Saudi-led Arab military intervention in Yemen, not the Iran-backed Houthi rebels' armed takeover of the government, capital and swathes of the country.

It suggested "establishing a reconciliation committee, adopting elections as a mechanism to elect a president and parliament, establishing international guarantees to begin reconstruction and compensation for damages, stopping any aggression from foreign countries against Yemen, announcing general amnesty, releasing of all those detained by all sides and putting any contested issue to a referendum".

The proposal came as armed confrontations intensified on the battlefields in Yemen, and can be viewed in any one of three ways: A serious Houthi call for peace after three years of bloodshed; a political tactic to obscure some other goal; or it could mean the Houthis have realised they will not be able to win a war of attrition.

The Houthis are unlikely to be eliminated any time soon

Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, rules out the possibility that the Houthis are close to being defeated or weakened.

"If anything, they have grown stronger, consolidating power and seizing the bulk of the Saleh network's military installations and its weapons," he said. "The Houthis are unlikely to be eliminated any time soon."

The points of divergence

The Saudi-supported, internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Houthi group controlling the capital seem to have zero trust in one another. Upon hearing the news of the Houthi peace initiative, a government minister warned against taking the peace proposal into serious consideration. 

"They do not believe in peace, but they manoeuvre to buy time and block the liberation process of areas under their control," said Ezi Shuraim, the water and environment minister.


The government insists on implementing what it calls "the three references" - the National Dialogue Conference outcomes, the Gulf Initiative and UN Security Council resolution 2216.

On the other hand, the Houthis would rather fight endlessly than consent to implement these three sets of demands. If the NDC outcomes are enforced, Yemen will be a federal state, and Sanaa will no longer be the country's hub of power.

Moreover, the Houthis deem the Gulf Initiative to be foreign interference into Yemen's internal affairs.

It is also unlikely that we will see the implementation of Resolution 2216 - which clearly stipulates the Houthi handover "state weapons" and withdraw from areas they seized.

Irrespective of the logicality of peace initiatives, distrust has deepened enough to doom any peace ideas in Yemen.

The two warring sides have repeatedly called for peace. They just each want to see the end of the conflict the way they visualise. They do not want to lose face, but they are ready to lose an entire country to this ruinous war.

Only the Yemeni decision-makers are able to stop the war and the bloodshed

Decision-makers can stop the ruination of Yemen

While Yemen is being referred to as a proxy war battleground, many still believe that peace lies in the hands of the Yemen's leading elites who may yet extinguish the flames of war - or keep them burning for years to come.

"Only the Yemeni decision-makers are able to stop the war and the bloodshed, and I repeat only the Yemeni decision-makers are able to stop the war and the bloodshed," the outgoing UN envoy to Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed said late last month.

After three years of searching for peace, Ahmed came up with this conclusion: Yemenis themselves plunged themselves into war, and they can extricate themselves from it - if they want.

The influence of regional rivals, the Saudi-led Arab coalition and Iran, cannot be ignored when discussing peace in Yemen. However, these powers would not have exerted their hegemony without a positive response from the internal players.

As time goes by, Yemen's conflict is getting more complicated. The country will reach a level at which talking about peace proposals resembles talking about restoring life to the dead. Yemenis will be accustomed to living surrounded by war after repeatedly losing hope in peace initiatives - while the world will turn a blind eye to the perpetual violence in this country.

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper.