What it will take to make peace in Yemen

What it will take to make peace in Yemen
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In 1985, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez contributed to the world his renowned novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera," one of the greatest literary works ever written. Three decades later, and due to the conflict that has ravaged my beloved homeland, the world has been presented literally the worst-ever outbreak of cholera — in Yemen. But now, the time has come to have “peace in the time of cholera.”

Moreover, peace cannot be a fiction, filled with empty promises and elusive aims; rather, it must be a truthful construct imbued with concrete goals and tangible hopes. Peace in Yemen cannot be left to die like a victim of cholera; unlike for the many victims of this disease, the remedies to Yemen’s conflict are available and accessible to all parties.

Yemen is embroiled in a conflict that is affected, like many others today, by its surroundings as well as its internal dynamics. Whether it be the United Nations resolutions and the signals sent by the international community, the intervention of the Arab Coalition that responded to President Hadi’s plea, the Iranian financing and support of the Houthis, or the collapsing of the Houthis-Saleh alliance and the inevitable confrontations between them thereafter, all have and still are determining the course of the conflict, for better or worse.

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Therefore, it is essential to step back, look at the bigger picture and clarify some crucial points before attempting to present any solutions to this protracted conflict.

 

First, Yemen is not Syria.

Some argue that the solution to Yemen’s crisis is as complicated as Syria’s. Nothing could be further from the truth; Yemen is quite different. It has enjoyed, to some degree, the benefits of a multiparty system since 1990; there was a free press in the past, and more so after the Youth Revolution of 2011, until the Houthi-Saleh forces took over the capital of Sanaa in September 2014. The international community is united on Yemen and supports President Hadi’s government; the U.N. has adopted many resolutions addressing the conflict. More important, Yemen has a road map – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative — that not only was in the implementation phase when the coup took place, but also was approved and endorsed by a popular referendum in 2012, the last election in Yemen. Moreover, the National Dialogue Conference outcomes, which led to the draft of a new constitution, were agreed upon by representatives from a wide spectrum of Yemeni society at all levels, including the Houthis.

Second, the conflict in Yemen is NOT sectarian in nature — at least not yet.

For centuries, the two main coexisting sects of Islam practiced in Yemen were the Zaidis and Shafi’is. Yemen had no Shia-Sunni divide that distinguished the way Yemenis go about their lives, unlike other places in the region. Furthermore, both Zaidis and Shafi’is have always prayed at the same mosques, intermarried and coexisted with no sectarian rivalry; it was not until the Houthis-Saleh forces coup began that such rivalry took shape. Nevertheless, if the war continues, this fledgling rivalry will change the nature of the conflict, and then it would be too late to reverse course.

Third, the solution is closer than many think.

All parties in Yemen agreed to the “Three References” for peace endorsed by the international community: The GCC Initiative and its implementation mechanism, the NDC outcomes, and the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, especially Resolution 2216. These references constituted the framework of the three rounds of peace talks (2015-2016) held under the auspices of the U.N. and sponsored by 18 countries, including the United States.

During the peace talks held in Kuwait, lasting about 115 days, the solution was within reach and U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed managed skillfully to come up with a plan that addressed the issues and concerns of all parties. He proposed that both the security arrangements and the political aspect be discussed and agreed to as a package deal, a precondition set forth by the Houthis, and that the first be implemented before the latter which satisfied the government’s concerns. The government agreed with no reservations, but the Houthis backtracked as they have always done in the past.

So, how do we get back on track?

We need first to convene a new round of peace talks. The government is ready and has always been supportive of the U.N. envoy’s peace efforts. The question is: How to convince the Houthis that it is time to talk?

For the U.N. envoy to successfully persuade the Houthis to come back to the negotiating table, he should start the conversation over reactivating the De-escalation and Coordination Committee (DCC) proposed by the U.N. and agreed to by all parties. This committee was formed to make sure that any future cease-fires are sustainable; the government’s delegates to the DCC have been ready to work since its inception, whereas the Houthis continue to evade sending theirs. They even bombed the DCC office building earlier this year.

The U.N. envoy should continue to push his last proposal on the city and port of Hodeida which was accepted by our government and averted the use of the military option. The Houthis cannot be allowed to continue abusing Hodeida’s port; the smuggling of weapons, profiteering on aid and black-market dealings must end.

The reopening of Sanaa International Airport is another good start and is entirely in the hands of the Houthis and their allies. The government has repeatedly stated that it has no objection to the reopening of Sanaa’s airport, provided that the airport’s officials and personnel  be allowed to go back to their jobs under U.N. supervision. The government will not allow a militia to replace a civilian international airport administration.

Without pressuring the Houthis and ex-President Saleh, there will never be peace.

I truly hope that peace will prevail and that Yemenis will once again be free in our beloved country. Throughout history, conflicts start and end, one way or another, and the conflict in Yemen is no different; it will end one day.

I just hope this day will come soon and that peace will be sustainable.

Ambassador Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak is the Republic of Yemen's ambassador to the United States. He was formerly the director of the Presidential Office and secretary-general of Yemen's National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Ambassador Mubarak holds a Ph.D in business administration and an MBA from the University of Baghdad.