Can a Saudi Peace Plan Finally End the War in Yemen and the Suffering of Millions?

Program Expert, Lebanon

4/1/2021

Saudi Arabia’s recent proposed plan to end the brutal conflict in Yemen comes as it enters its seventh grueling year. The initiative was widely welcomed by countries in the region and around the world. The United Nations considers the initiative to be in line with its efforts to broker a peace deal in Yemen and reiterated that “all actors and stakeholders must do their utmost to facilitate an immediate agreement that brings Yemen back to a path towards peace.” 

The Saudi initiative mainly calls for a nationwide ceasefire monitored by the United Nations, the partial reopening of the airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, renewed peace talks, and a revival of the revenue-sharing mechanism between the Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government. While Saudi Arabia regards its proposal as a step in ending the suffering of the Yemeni people and reaching a political resolution, Houthi rebels dismiss it as “nothing new.” They instead insist on Saudi Arabia entirely lifting its blockade of the strategic port of Hodeidah, arguing that keeping the port open is a humanitarian right and accusing the Saudis of exploiting that right as a tool to apply pressure.

The Saudi initiative is only the latest in a series of attempts to establish peace in Yemen. Other recent ceasefire agreements have failed to stop the fighting. The 2018 Stockholm agreement between the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels to halt hostilities in the port of Hodeidah remains to this day unfulfilled. The 2019 Riyadh agreement, which went into effect at the end of 2020, formed a power-sharing government composed of members of the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transition Council (STC) and the internationally recognized government. However, the agreement has not been fully implemented and may collapse amid rising tensions between the parties to it. The STC, for instance, declared self-rule in Aden in April 2020, though withdrew it in July.

Last February, US President Joe Biden announced his administration’s commitment to end the conflict in Yemen and its intention to cut US military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the country. The Biden administration also revoked the designation of the Houthi rebels as a “terrorist organization” and appointed a special envoy to the country. These efforts have been hindered by renewed and escalating fighting between Houthi rebels and government forces in the oil-rich region of Marib, one of the government’s last northern strongholds, threatening the millions of local residents and internally displaced persons living in the area.

The people of Yemen are paying the price of political deals, which are being negotiated without their involvement or much concern for their human rights. A shattered economy, a decimated health care system, food insecurity and famine, fuel shortages, bombings, destroyed homes and infrastructure, displacement, injuries, and the deaths of loved ones have inflicted immeasurable suffering of the Yemeni people for the past six years. The war has devastated the country, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving millions more in desperate need of humanitarian assistance in what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Despite all these calamities and the urgent need for humanitarian and international aid, a donor conference held in early March in Geneva raised less than half of the amount required for aid agencies to carry out the 2021 Yemen humanitarian response plan.

Every time there is a glimmer of hope for a de-escalation in the conflict, a resumption of hostilities in the fragile country extinguishes it. It is time for warring parties to return to the negotiating table and agree on a common denominator to stop fighting and forge a comprehensive and inclusive political process. People’s humanitarian needs should be put above all political, military, and business-related considerations. The world has failed Yemen and it is time for decisive and meaningful action to give the people of Yemen, who have suffered long enough, a chance to rebuild their lives in peace.


PHOTO: A child looks out over a neighborhood in Sana, Yemen, a day after it was hit by a Saudi-led airstrike in May 2019. (Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock)