The recent briefing to the United Nations Security Council by the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, on 15 April 2021 raises again questions about this entity’s capacity for settling conflicts in general, and in Yemen in particular. We must not forget that the former UN Special Envoy for Yemen served as a mediator in legitimizing the Houthi coup through a “peace and partnership agreement.” The truth is that the briefing does not refer to any progress or new developments of any kind. It begins by talking about the different ways Yemenis are suffering, from sporadic schooling to none at all, employment that is partial or non-existent, the problem of importing fuel and its impact on the rise in commodity prices, the lack of electricity coverage, the Coronavirus pandemic, and the erosion of state institutions. All these phenomena are well-known without the need for a UN envoy. Then the envoy indicates in his report that most Yemenis insist that ending the war is the most important objective, and that this is a consensus that exists in all conflicts. This is an idealistic view that ignores the presence of local and regional parties who have an interest in the continuation of the conflict, and without acknowledging this, it will be pointless to continue settlement efforts.
The idealistic viewpoint in the report continues by indicating that the conflict in Yemen is distinguished by the fact that the international community, as represented by the Security Council, stands behind a negotiated political solution. This is, as we know, merely a consensus in form, which includes differences in attitudes towards the local and regional parties to the conflict, as evidenced by the fact that the Council has not yet been able to put its famous Resolution No. 2216 into practice. Thus, the report ignores the essence of the conflict by indicating that there is another reason for hope in settling the conflict that makes it different from others, which is that the way to end the war is known and its basic elements have been discussed repeatedly with the parties. This way focuses on addressing the humanitarian needs, trust-building measures, and the establishment of sustainable communication channels so that war does not reignite. These efforts are guided by previous negotiations in Geneva, Kuwait, and Stockholm, and therefore, they call for a full ceasefire and not partial one, as happened in the case of Hodeidah, and insist on a specific date for the launch of the political process. All that is needed is for both sides to agree to it.
There is an ongoing tendency of international conflict-resolution efforts to completely ignore the issue of legitimacy and deal with the two parties to the conflict from a realistic perspective. This approach was asserted through the Security Council Resolution 2216, but it must be stated that it is a dangerous tendency for international efforts that are supposed to be based on considerations of legitimacy.
Then the report ends with the nicest part, which is the dream about what will happen the “day after” reaching an agreement, such as removing barriers to ships entering the port of Hodeidah, directing the revenue from the barriers removal to pay employee salaries, flights returning to Sanaa airport, students returning to their homes, patients traveling for treatment, roads opening and allowing the passage of goods, especially humanitarian ones, the return of freedom of movement, and the return of children to their schools and workers to their jobs. All of this reminds us of the famous fable, the Milk-Maid’s Dream.
Thus, the UN report is a descriptive one that ignores the issue of legitimacy and the interests of the local, regional, and even international parties of the conflict; neglects the Houthis as a playing card in the current negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program; and only mentions their ongoing aggressive actions to seize Marib as an occasional flareup of conflict. It states in simplistic terms that all that is missing is to reach an agreement without explicitly outlining a specific mechanism to achieve this in light of the intransigence of the Houthis. This is not the way to apply the kind of pressure that will settle this conflict.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Emirati publication al-Ittihad.