Since early May, UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has been trying to convince the Yemeni legitimate government and the Houthis to accept his initiative, which is endorsed by the UNSC. The initiative calls for a complete ceasefire to resume the political negotiations between the two sides in order to put an end to the dispute in the country.
However, Griffiths has had to amend his initiative, which he calls the Joint Declaration, more than once so far. In its first version, the Declaration took into consideration changes that took place on the ground in favor of the Houthis, in addition to the spread of COVID-19, and international calls for de-escalation in Yemen. Therefore, Griffiths proposed ceasefire in Marib in exchange for halting the extensive air operations by the Arab Coalition, something that the Yemeni legitimate government and the Arab Coalition agreed to. However, the revolutionaries demanded amendments to this version and continued to fire missiles targeting Saudi lands. In July, Griffiths proposed an amended version granting the Houthis a partner role in the decision-making process pertaining to oil, gas, and the Central Bank. The amendment was soon rejected by the legitimate government, which believed that it undermined its sovereignty and responsibilities toward the country.
In August, the UN envoy returned once again with a third version of his Joint Declaration, focusing on forming joint committees to be responsible for controlling the ceasefire and prisoner-exchange, as well as facilitating the work of medical teams concerned with treating COVID-19 patients. The government initially approved this version under the condition that the UN guarantees the Houthis’ sticking to their part of the deal, by applying the Stockholm Agreement of 2018 on Hudaydah and its port, or by responding to the international demands of solving the issue of the stranded oil tanker of “Safer” to avoid environmental catastrophe if it breaks apart. Griffiths did not receive any guarantees in this regard as the Houthis have been playing the “Safer” card to achieve some gains through extortion. Therefore, Griffiths seemed to prefer to tackle actionable initiatives, calling on the two sides to meet in Geneva and discuss exchanging around 15,000 prisoners and detainees. This humanitarian issue was one of the main points under the Stockholm Agreement, and although it was further discussed in Amman meetings, it only resulted in limited prisoner exchanges.
There is still hope that the new Griffiths efforts are fruitful despite the Houthis wanting to limit them to war prisoners, excluding falsely imprisoned civilian detainees. Although the release of prisoners is normally seen as a step to build trust between sides to conflicts, it is not guaranteed in this case to enable the resumption of political negotiations. The Houthis have been seeking to impose control over Marib for months now to achieve a strategic breakthrough that would enable them to have a share in the oil there. If they succeed in this, they will no longer need to take part in any negotiations. This aspiration of the Houthis is rejected at all levels, as they are not trust-worthy since Griffiths himself still recalls that they have been stealing the Hudaydah Port revenues that were meant to pay staff salaries.
This incident is just one of the many Houthi breaches of the Stockholm agreement. It could be the reason why several donor countries have been refraining from paying for aid as part of their previous commitments to Yemen, not to mention that the United Nations has finally voiced its concerns over this matter, which has led to demands for canceling the Agreement. Unfortunately, these demands were not accompanied by any efforts to launch a new campaign and rally behind the government to free Hudaydah.
Griffiths is still holding on to the Agreement to justify his movements, which may prove to be in vain. Meanwhile, the Houthis have benefited from the halt to the offensive on Hudaydah to transfer their fighters to Al-Jawf, Marib, and the Nihm District battlefront. They may show signs of cooperation in the prisoners file only because they need to take back a few thousands of their fighters to be swiftly rehabilitated and sent back into battle in Marib. As for the return to negotiations, it is a matter that only the Iranians can decide on, not the Houthis.
- This piece was originally published in Al-Ittihad.
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