In the last few weeks, the UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has intensified his efforts to revive the path of the political solution in this country and resume direct talks between the parties to the conflict. Those efforts had ceased since the Sweden round of consultations in late 2018. In this context, in the last two months (July and August 2020), Griffiths submitted to the two parties to the conflict two revised proposals for a peace plan that was drawn up by his team in March 2020. Griffiths had then promised to work on the plan in light of the observations he had received from the legitimate Yemeni government and the Houthi Ansar Allah group. On the whole, the plan is based on three principles: halting military confrontations, initiating economic and humanitarian measures, and resuming the political track.
The content of the amended plan and the positions of the parties thereon
According to the available information, the draft revised UN peace plan, known as the declaration of a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian and economic measures, includes the signing of a "joint declaration" by the government of President Hadi, the Houthis and all those affiliated with those two parties, stipulating a ceasefire throughout the country, with a complete cessation of all land, air and sea military offensive operations, including the redeployment of forces, heavy and medium weapons and ammunition, the release of all prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, persons under house arrest and persons deprived of their liberty due to the conflict in accordance with the Stockholm Agreement, especially in light of the threat of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in places of detention.
The plan also includes proposals to form a committee to monitor the ceasefire, open up the main roads to the cities, especially in Taiz, Sanaa, Al-Hudaydah, Ma’rib, Sa’da and Al-Jawf, pay the salaries of all civil servants throughout the country according to the 2014 payroll, start to repair the Ma'rib-Ras Isa pipeline to resume pumping oil, ensure the safety of the dilapidated oil tanker (Safer), restart the Ma’rib gas power station, lift restrictions on the entry of container and oil derivative ships to Al-Hudaydah port, restart Sanaa International Airport and open it to humanitarian, commercial and civil flights, and form two joint committees, the first of which would coordinate the monetary policy, and the second would handle issues of unifying monetary policy and supporting foreign exchange reserves abroad. In light of this, political consultations would be resumed.
As part of his continuous efforts to convince the conflicting parties of the contents of his plan, Griffiths visited the capitals of Yemen's neighboring countries, specifically Riyadh and Muscat, more than once during the last few weeks, with the aim of meeting representatives of the parties. In the Saudi capital, he met with President Hadi and his Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik, in addition to the Speaker of Parliament Sultan al-Barakani, and representatives of pro-legitimacy Yemeni political parties and components, in addition to holding talks with the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir. Griffiths later traveled to Muscat, where he met with the then Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi, who reaffirmed his country's continued support for the UN mediation efforts aimed at ending the protracted Yemeni conflict.
The UN envoy’s tour was supposed to include a meeting with the head of the Houthi negotiating delegation Muhammad Abdul-Salam at his residence in Muscat, in addition to the leader of the group Abdul-Malik al-Houthi in the Yemeni capital Sanaa to complete consultations on his peace plan. However, those figures refused to meet Griffiths for the first time since his appointment as a Special Envoy for Yemen in February 2018, in protest against what they described as "the escalation of the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition" against the group's forces in Sanaa and different areas of the country, and the "continued detention of oil derivative ships and preventing their entry to the port of Al-Hudaydah" in a clear effort by the Houthis to obtain some interim gains by exerting more pressure on the UN mediator to meet their demands, and threatening to reject his revised peace plan if those demands are not met.
Despite the issuance of statements by officials in the government of President Hadi, in mid-July 2020, confirming that it has officially informed Griffiths of its rejection of his recent proposals because they "undermine its sovereignty and exceed his mission," according to the spokesman for the internationally recognized government, the UN envoy hastened to visit Riyadh once again between 10 and 13 August 2020, with the aim of persuading both the legitimate government and the Saudi leadership to agree to his peace plan, and to demonstrate his openness to the possibility of making any additional necessary and reasonable adjustments to advance his plan. In this context, diplomatic sources indicated that on his recent visit to Riyadh, Griffiths presented an amended version for the third time of the draft joint declaration between the government and the Houthis, which accommodated some observations on the previous versions of the initiative that were rejected by the government, in addition to a number of amendments in accordance with the observations made by the Houthi side, in the hope that they would be accepted this time by President Hadi's government.
Plan challenges and prospects for settlement
The fluctuating and ambiguous positions of the two parties to the conflict in Yemen on Griffiths' revised peace plan and his recent efforts to formulate a "joint declaration" leading to an immediate cessation of fighting and the resumption of direct talks between them demonstrated the enormous complexities that prevent a rapid breakthrough in terms of reviving the path of the political solution to the Yemeni crisis as a whole. Trust between the conflicting powers continues to be lacking, and they do not have the self-will or tangible momentum to proceed in the path of bridging the existing gap by initiating confidence-building measures and promoting the peaceful approach to the conflict (such as agreeing, for example, on minimum, urgent and necessary humanitarian and economic actions and measures, such as the release of prisoners and detainees, neutralization of the economy and the banking system, and overcoming obstacles before relief organisations and their efforts to improve the humanitarian response in various parts of the country, etc.). In addition, the negotiation tactics adopted by the parties continue to embarrass the international mediator, obstruct his efforts, return them from time to time to "square one", and spend much effort and time in discussing secondary, circumstantial and variable details, in order to avoid discussion of the core of the problem and the requirements of the permanent and final solution to the conflict.
While the major international powers, especially Britain and the European Union (EU), continued to show their strong support for the UN mediation efforts in Yemen, both within the framework of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and through the direct diplomatic dynamism in support of the moves of Martin Griffiths and his team in influential regional capitals, their preoccupation at this stage with facing the repercussions of the novel coronavirus epidemic has greatly weakened their capability to exert pressure on the Yemeni conflict parties and drive them to engage in good faith in the settlement efforts sponsored by the United Nations (UN).
Unless pressure continues to be exerted by influential international powers on the parties to the conflict, the chances of success of the settlement endeavours in Yemen will - most likely - remain very slim, and their challenges and obstacles would be greater than the capability of the UN mediation to overcome them. What a mediator such as Martin Griffiths badly needs today is to support and push forward his current approach to ending the conflict, despite its flaws and weaknesses, and the criticisms and accusations it faces (as is the case with all international mediators in conflict cases). It is important for this support for Griffiths' approach to be based on a better and more realistic understanding of the dynamics and transformations of the conflict in Yemen and the interests of the local and regional powers involved in it, and to make more efforts to separate the Yemeni file from the rest of the hot regional files, in a way that limits the capability of some opportunistic regional powers that have a proved interest in the continuation of the fighting in Yemen, especially the Iranian regime, to continue to exploit this file and employ it in the regional bargaining bazaar, in a way that enhances its exclusive interests and influence and increases the margin of its regional and international manoeuvrability, which can only be achieved by keeping the Yemeni conflict file open, and hindering all efforts to settle it peacefully as long as possible.
Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi | 24 Sep 2020
Ahmed Zaghloul Shalata | 21 Sep 2020
Shereen Mohammed | 21 Sep 2020