LONDON: The newly announced Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen offers the first real prospects for peace, experts say.
Prior to this, there has been no formal peace process or enough diplomatic investment in Yemen, said Farea Al-Muslimi, chairman and co-founder of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
“The entire regional conflict resolution model over the past five years has not been enough in responding to what we are facing,” he said during a panel discussion on the current developments and regional dynamics of Yemen’s War, which was organized by Chatham House.
Saudi Arabia announced a new initiative to end the six-year war in Yemen last week, which calls for a UN-supervised nationwide cease-fire, the reopening of Sanaa airport to civilian air traffic, easing restrictions on Hodeidah port, and the resumption of negotiations to reach a political resolution to the conflict.
Al-Muslimi said reconciliation among Gulf states, the new administration of US President Joe Biden, and the US special envoy to Yemen that reports directly to the White House are all driving factors behind real peace prospects.
“It is really about time to hire more envoys to add to the diplomatic pressure in Yemen,” he said.
Al-Muslimi said Europe, the UK, the Gulf and the Arab League do not have envoys for Yemen.
He also said previous peace initiatives were not adhered to their fullest because they were handled solely by the UN, which is not able to lead a democratic transition without help.
Yemen’s civil war began in late 2014 mainly between the internationally recognized government, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the Iran-aligned Houthi militia. An Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, intervened the following year in support of the government.
Al-Muslimi said Saudi Arabia cannot and should not walk away from Yemen now because it is so heavily involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.
Sama’a Al-Hamdani, director of the Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts, said the “situation is quite prime for peace.” She added that if it was not for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “we probably would have seen some sort of a peace initiative take place last year.”
She referred to several events over the past year, including the new sultan taking power in Oman, the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman taking charge of the Yemen file that enabled a “new turning page” for the region.
“There were a lot of things that were happening that could have indicated that the US and Saudi Arabia would be ready to engage in a peace process,” Al-Muslimi said.
She also referred to a column published by Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the UK, where he discussed the Kingdom’s engagement in the peace process and rebuilding efforts that offered “a new level of seriousness that was being presented to the conflict.”
Meanwhile, Editor in Chief of Al Arabiya English Mohammed Alyahya said this is the most significant peace initiative presented since the beginning of the war.
“This is a true test of the extent to which the Houthis are subordinate to the revolutionary guards in Iran or whether the decision is one that is motivated by domestic priorities and a desire to be part of Yemen’s political fabric,” he said.
Moreover, he said: “Defending the Houthis has become totally impossible and life under Houthi rule is something that is a struggle, especially since they have been monetizing aid that comes to their areas for their war effort.
“Peace is important,” Alyahya said. “Stability is important for Yemen but it should not come at the cost of people that are living under Houthi rule.”