Yemen: Ensnared in the Abyss of Unresolved Conflict

Have the root causes that contributed to the catastrophe been eradicated?
Bakeel Al Omari
June 12, 2024

Yemen: Ensnared in the Abyss of Unresolved Conflict

Have the root causes that contributed to the catastrophe been eradicated?
Bakeel Al Omari
June 12, 2024

Since the recent agreements between the authorities in Sanaa (the Houthis) and Riyadh over a year ago, there has been a sense of anticipation among Yemenis that these developments would lead to a comprehensive and lasting peace. However, it is disheartening that, as of now, this expectation remains unfulfilled. This raises the important question of why there has been a delay in reaching a consensus among the conflicting parties. The prolonged absence of a consensus is a cause for concern, especially considering that Yemen has been stuck in a state of neither peace nor war since April 2, 2022, following the initial ceasefire agreement. Regrettably, this ceasefire agreement has not been renewed since October of the same year. The reasons behind this delay and the inability to reach a lasting solution are complex and require a thorough examination of the dynamics and interests of the parties involved.

The cost of peace

Addressing the question regarding the delay in reaching an agreement among the conflicting parties in Yemen may seem straightforward at first, pointing to the lack of genuine intention from the involved factions to achieve peace. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that peace comes at a cost, and that cost is often the willingness to make concessions and compromises. Therefore, the pertinent question arises: Who among the parties is truly ready to make the necessary concessions in order to resolve the conflict and ultimately achieve a lasting and peaceful resolution? The persistence of the Houthi rebels in addressing their supporters and creating the illusion of imminent victory without displaying any willingness to make concessions is indeed concerning. Their insistence on a "tit for tat" approach in negotiations with Saudi Arabia, while disregarding the internationally recognized government, hampers the progress towards a political settlement. Thus, the Houthis' disregard for the Gulf Initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes, and UN Resolution 2216 further complicates the situation.

Moreover, the Houthi rebels hinting at a potential return to military escalation raises alarm and poses a threat to the fragile peace in Yemen. On the other hand, the internationally recognized government, despite its weakened state, emphasizes the importance of restoring the state's authority and reclaiming Sanaa. However, the Houthis vehemently reject this demand, creating a deadlock in the negotiations. Additionally, the Southern Transitional Council, despite not being the sole power in the south, has been vocal about its aspirations for southern secession and the restoration of the pre-1990 state. This adds another layer of complexity to the already challenging task of finding a unified path towards a comprehensive and lasting peace in Yemen. The differing aspirations and demands from various factions further complicate the negotiation process and make it difficult to reach a consensus on a way forward.

Lack of Post War Vision

The absence of future visions is a significant factor that hampers the progress towards reaching agreements between conflicting parties. In the context of Yemen, the lack of clear visions for the future exacerbates the challenges in achieving a comprehensive settlement. Without a shared understanding of the desired future state of Yemen, it becomes difficult to find common ground and establish a roadmap for peace. Furthermore, the absence of trust between the parties involved adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Trust is essential for building confidence and fostering constructive dialogue, which are crucial elements in resolving conflicts and reaching sustainable agreements. Consequently, the deep-rooted distrust among the parties in Yemen makes it even more challenging to bridge the gaps and find mutually acceptable solutions.

Indeed, regional dynamics have a significant impact on Yemen's political landscape. The recent developments between the authorities in Sanaa and Riyadh, which may be influenced by the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, demonstrate how regional events can affect the prospects of reaching a peace agreement in Yemen. The tense situation in the Red Sea region, coupled with ongoing conflicts and rivalries, further complicates the path towards a settlement. It is important also to note that the satisfaction of the conflicting parties in Yemen with their territorial gains and current positions poses a significant challenge to the progress in ending the war. This sense of complacency hampers the urgency and motivation needed to take decisive steps towards achieving a sustainable peace. When parties feel content with their gains, they may be less inclined to make concessions or engage in meaningful negotiations. Overcoming this complacency and fostering a genuine commitment to peace requires a collective effort to highlight the long-term benefits of a peaceful resolution and address the underlying grievances that fuel the conflict.

Looking at the territorial control map, we can see that Ansar Allah (the Houthis) hold sway over the majority of northern provinces in Yemen, as well as the capital city of Sanaa, which is home to several prominent international and UN organizations, as well as vital national institutions such as telecommunications companies. Conversely, the internationally recognized government, in collaboration with the Southern Transitional Council, controls the southern provinces and certain parts of the eastern provinces, including the oil and gas-rich province of Mareb. According to reports, as of April 2023, the legitimate government, known as the Council of Leadership, controls approximately 55% of Yemen's geographic area, whereas the Houthis control around 25%, and the Transitional Council governs 20% of Yemen's vast territory, spanning over 550 square kilometers. It is important to note that over half of Yemen's population resides in areas under the control of Ansar Allah (the Houthis).

Any peace treaty that lacks the sincere intention to address the root causes of conflict and has the potential to spark renewed hostilities cannot be regarded as a genuine peace treaty. In such instances, these agreements can only serve as temporary ceasefires or truces. A true peace treaty should comprehensively tackle and eliminate all underlying factors that contribute to future conflicts. 

The recurrent failure

Yemenis have become accustomed to the failure of peace efforts as peace agreements often remain mere ink on paper, with each party blaming the other for the failure, citing non-compliance with the terms of the agreement. This pattern of failure dates back to the Gulf Initiative, followed by the National Dialogue Conference, and even agreements like the Peace and Partnership Agreement. Even before the Saudi-Emirati intervention, the outcome was no different where every round of dialogue facilitated by the United Nations between 2015 and 2016, held in Switzerland, ended in failure including the latest of these agreements the Stockholm Agreement which was signed in 2018. It committed the warring parties to an immediate ceasefire in the city of Hodeida and its ports, as well as in Asalif and Ras Issa. They also agreed to a joint redeployment of forces, securing the ports, establishing a joint coordination committee under the auspices of the United Nations, and using port revenues to support civil service salary payments. As mentioned in the agreement, it also called for strengthening the United Nations' presence in the city of Hodeida and its ports, including Asalif and Ras Issa. This led to the establishment of the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement, as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2452 (2019), which was adopted on January 16, 2019. The hope was that this agreement would serve as the starting point for a peace process to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen. However, the situation has remained largely unchanged, although there has been a decrease in the intensity of the fighting. In spite of the agreements reached between Riyadh and the Houthi group (Ansar Allah), the Yemeni people have been longing for peace and stability for far too long, yet their desired outcome remains elusive. Despite various peace initiatives and negotiations, the conflict continues to persist, causing immense suffering and devastation to the Yemeni population.

A convoluted conflict 

There is no doubt that the conflict in Yemen is a highly intricate and prolonged struggle, characterized by numerous formidable challenges that cannot be resolved through mere dialogues centered around peace. It is imperative to deeply analyze and understand the barriers and root causes that ignited the war in order to identify and implement effective solutions. Additionally, it is crucial to acknowledge that a political settlement, although pivotal, represents only a single facet of the comprehensive peace-building process that Yemen needs. A holistic approach is required, addressing the underlying socio-economic, political, and humanitarian dimensions to achieve sustainable peace in Yemen. In fact, this process may extend over many years, possibly surpassing the duration of the war itself. The ongoing conflict in Yemen, which has persisted for almost a decade, is shaped by a multitude of historical, political, and social factors that have contributed to its continuation. Given the complexity of these factors, accurately predicting the future of the peace process becomes increasingly challenging. Resolving this intricate conflict necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the underlying causes and a dedicated commitment to long-term peacebuilding initiatives.

In conclusion, as philosopher Kant astutely argues, a true peace treaty must be driven by a rational intention to eliminate all underlying causes of future conflicts. Without addressing these root causes, any agreement would only serve as a temporary ceasefire. This realization is of utmost importance for the people of Yemen if they seek to establish a comprehensive and lasting peace in their nation.

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