Reasonable ideas for peace in Yemen
The Yemeni government has strongly denounced the peace plan proposed by the United Nations Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and rejected what it deemed a bad idea.
Nevertheless, I believe that we can positively reflect on many of its ideas and negotiate the details. Its main positivity is protecting legitimacy and rejecting the rebels’ projects that undermine the Yemeni ruling regime.
The initiative states that rebels should withdraw their troops from the main cities; the capital Sanaa, Hodeidah and Taiz and handover their arms. The withdrawal of militias and arms achieves civil peace and validates the government troops’ legitimacy. It can also measure the rebels’ seriousness on the ground, not only through negotiators.
The UN’s envoy compels the Houthis to create a buffer zone with Saudi Arabia by withdrawing all militants in the Saudi-Yemeni border areas, to beyond 30 kilometers to prevent any engagement.
The legitimate government was too quick to denounce the peace initiative and considered it a reward for the rebels. It objects to shifting the powers of the president to a newly appointed vice president. It sees that as a prelude to handing in the power to the rebels, and disempowering the president to a partial or symbolic rank. The example of Lebanon comes to mind.
While we cannot undermine this legitimate concern, we know that pushing for reconciliation requires both sides to pay a price. We would definitely welcome support to President Hadi if he can impose a better solution whether by force or by agreement. But we know that this is not the case. Rebels cannot enforce their authority on the state even though they rule Sanaa. So, in light of the situation both parties would need to compromise.
I believe that the proposal — although flawed — seems to be the best option on the table, and definitely is the lesser of the evil i.e. brothers fighting each other. It is also built on the original project known as the Gulf Initiative that included an interim phase that leads ultimately to elections where the government would have a limited authority because of its temporary nature.
In my opinion, the most important solution comes after the end of the interim agreement, which needs to be relatively short. Then, the Yemenis can decide their next ruler through elections.
It’s up to the majority Yemenis to choose the General People’s Congress or the Houthi, or even a third party outside their two base camps — which proves our position right.
After all, it’s their country and their call not the Gulf states’ or Iran’s. Is the peace initiative a reward for the rebels as officials in the Yemeni government say? If there’s an international mechanism to oversee the implementation of the initiative, then it’s not a reward for the Houthis and Saleh but a common ground between both parties.
It’s worth mentioning that the offered proposals since the Gulf Initiative till after the coup never ignored the Houthis’ right of sharing power, nor the party of Ali Abdullah Saleh, with the exception of a list of banned figures including Saleh himself.
The new element in Ould Cheikh’s initiative is that the vice president could be a Houthi, yet this is just a temporary job just as the rest of the interim government’s officials until elections date, which should be set by the UN envoy.
The initiative represents ideas, but they are not final and aim to reduce the gap after the many rounds dialogue between different parties in Kuwait, Riyadh, Switzerland and Britain. We see it as a good foundation for a final solution that ends the war, regains legitimacy and blocks the intervention of foreign powers.
Here, we expect the UN envoy to provide clear and specific commitments by the Security Council to ensure the implementation of the initiative where the Houthis would hand in their heavy weapons, and withdraw their fighters from the cities.
A mechanism should also be in place to prevent arming rebels and to fight them if they dared to revolt again.
* Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran and internationally acclaimed columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
* Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat