Turning Yemen's ceasefire into long-term peace

Turning Yemen's ceasefire into long-term peace
Comment: Peace talks in Sweden yielded positive results, but for long-lasting peace in Yemen, deep-rooted political divisions must also be addressed, writes a Yemeni journalist.
5 min read
14 Dec, 2018
'Practical ideas on a weapons handover should also be discussed' writes the author [AFP]
On Thursday, the warring parties in Yemen's deadly conflict wound up a week of UN-sponsored talks in Sweden, scoring an encouraging breakthrough after four years of deadly impasse.

While it is hoped this will pave the way to progress on Yemen's major humanitarian issues, questions over the country's serious political divides remain unresolved.

The flexibility of the warring parties does however, reflect their zeal for ending - or at least alleviating - the suffering of people in Yemen. They have agreed to de-escalate in Hodeida and implement a ceasefire, as well as a prisoner swap.

It is also hoped this progress will open a window on further constructive talks, and better understanding between the warring parties.

The Hodeida agreement stipulates that an "immediate ceasefire" should come into effect in Hodeida and the three ports upon signing this agreement, and this will be followed by a "mutual redeployment of forces to agreed-upon locations outside the city and the ports".

The obvious rationale behind the willingness of the Houthis and the internationally recognised government to sign this agreement is to avoid further bloodshed and destruction in Hodeida, and guarantee the entry of 80 percent of basic imports into Yemen.

But whether both sides will be willing to make salient political concessions will be the real acid test for the much sought-after breakthrough

After the previous peace talks held in Kuwait in 2016, the parties returned empty-handed, and the war fiercely escalated. Today though, a ray of hope for peace is modestly rising, but the ultimate outcome hinges on the degree of the concessions offered from both sides.

Are political concessions possible?

Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul Salam made it clear when he said they [Houthis] made concessions over Hodeida for the sake of the people, though agreements on other humanitarian issues including the Taiz siege and the Sanaa airport closure have not been reached.

The government echoed this concern over the humanitarian tragedies that could stem from an all-out war in the city of Hodeida. But whether both sides will be willing to make salient political concessions will be the real acid test for the much sought-after breakthrough.

Having the UN supervise the port of Hodeida will not suffice to yield a viable political settlement. Given that the war in Yemen began over the political agreements in 2014 which led to military escalations and destructive war, these issues still need to be resolved.

Having the UN supervise the port of Hodeida will not suffice to yield a viable political settlement

Now, questions over the presidency, a united leadership, early elections, and the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) must be brought to the table. In addition, practical ideas on a weapons handover should be discussed.

But while the government insists on implementing the UN-sponsored and Gulf-backed NDC outcomes, the Houthis see such a matter as an impossibility. This is just one example of the wide schism that must be bridged.

At a time when the government would like to see the Houthis as a political party that competes in elections and get the power they deserve through the polls, the Houthis are unlikely to buy into such proposals.  

At a time when the government sees the Gulf countries as brotherly and friendly countries, the Houthis see them as enemies and occupiers, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE. The question is how can such divides be resolved? 

The UN-supervised peace talks on Yemen need to move on to the contentious issues. The rivals in Yemen struggle for power and fear marginalisation, and this is the root cause of the complex conflict in the country.

While the outcome of the Sweden talks is a positive step, we should exercise caution in our celebration, given both parties remain skeptical about each other's intentions.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, head of the government delegation, said the Houthis had failed to implement "71 previous agreements".

Yamani stated that the current agreement to hand Hodeida over to the UN was made "with the hypothetical understanding that [the Houthis] would carry it out."

This level of distrust over the humanitarian agreements casts some doubt over whether they are willing to engage in a serious political settlement. The coming talks will lay these intentions bare.

A Saudi exit

The longer the war drags on in Yemen, the worse the Saudi image becomes. The starvation, death and epidemics in Yemen cannot be spoken about without referring to the Saudi role in connection with these tragedies.

On Thursday, the US Senate approved a resolution to terminate American military support for the Saudi-led war in its conflict-ridden neighbour.

While such a resolution cannot compel Saudi Arabia to terminate its war, it is a clear indicator of America's impatience with Riyadh's continuous disregard for civilian lives in Yemen. 

Combined with fresh US momentum to end the war, the success of the ongoing Yemen peace talks in Sweden could serve an exit for Saudi Arabia and a relief for Yemenis. But the fact remains that it is still premature to confidently pin hope on the preliminary results of these peace talks; it is the end that will really count.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.