If fighting in Yemen continues, in four months’ time it would be two years since Saudi Arabia began its operation in its southern neighbour. After months of negotiations and ceasefires in the midst of violence and famine in a military stalemate, prospects of peace in the foreseeable future seem dim.
Last week, the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented a peace plan to the warring parties, which the Hadi government rejected last Saturday. However, less than a week later on Thursday, Prime Minster Ahmed Obeid Bin Daghr announced that the Hadi government decided to reluctantly accept the proposal, conditional on amendments being made.
One of the main proposals for the peace plan was that there would be a unity government run by the Houthi rebels, ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh as well as current President Hadi with power to be shared equally between the three parties. For the Hadi government, this is a significant loss because it means Hadi will lose control over two thirds of the Yemeni government. It also means Saleh and the Houthis will have a significant amount of leverage over Hadi, especially considering a unity government against Hadi has been formed by the Houthi and Saleh opposition who are likely to band together.
It must also be remembered that the idea of forming a unity government was one originally proposed by the Houthis. In June, the Houthis proposed to implement their part of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which means they would have to withdraw from all of the areas they have occupied. In return, Hadi would have had to step down and he would have had to give half of the cabinet seats to the Houthis and Saleh.
While Hadi does not have to step down in the latest UN-backed proposal, he would have to give up two thirds of his cabinet as opposed to half. From his perspective, this is still a significant loss and it makes sense from a power politics perspective why the Hadi government is apprehensive about the proposal.
However, when looking at the proposal from a wider, more national perspective, it offers nothing new in terms of finding a political solution to the Yemen crisis. If anything, it shows the UN is running in circles between the three main warring parties to find a solution in their interest, rather than the Yemeni peoples’ interest.
All of the previous rounds of peace talks have proven that the three parties do not take part in peace talks because they ultimately seek peace in the interest of the Yemeni people – they enter with the mentality of negotiating for power. When dealing with Yemen, the UN must dramatically change its approach.
Rather than using actors with the most power, who have proven to be seeking a political monopoly, the UN must use alternative actors and must learn to understand and work with the organic socio-political structure of Yemen. Tribal politics must not be undermined in the peace talks and need to be more heavily involved. Local authorities must also be granted a more inclusive role in the national reconciliation process.
Defenders of the UN would argue that negotiating with the most powerful actors is the most efficient way for the UN to achieve a peace deal. This argument, however, is not only redundant because it has been proven that this model does not work for Yemen, but it also reflects a wider problem in the UN’s overall model of conflict resolution. There is no point in attempting to broker a ceasefire if it will be broken within minutes, as has repeatedly occurred in Yemen. Negotiating ceasefires must be inclusive – the UN cannot expect the delegations to implement its ceasefires and wait for the effects to trickle down.
A more palpable model for Yemen would be to completely abandon using Houthi, Saleh and Hadi as delegates in the talks. Instead, it would make more sense to split the delegates geographically, with each region being represented by either a tribal elder or a local governor. Though this would be more expensive, tedious and harder to implement, there is a higher chance of success in the long-term because there would be a nation-wide discussion through local actors that would be more likely to invest time and effort in reaching stability and security.
While the Hadi government does have valid reasons for being apprehensive about the peace deal, it must not be forgotten that, just like the Houthis and Saleh, the Hadi government is also fighting and negotiating for power rather than for peace. To change the outcome of peace talks, not only does the proposed peace deal need to be changed, but so should the strategy that the UN adopts with Yemen overall.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.