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Yemen’s reasonable options for peace

The plan provides legitimacy and rejects the rebels’ design to neutralize institutions

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Yemeni government condemned and strongly rejected the peace plan proposed by United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Yet, I think it, deserves to be considered as it contains many ideas, which can be negotiated.

The most positive aspect is that the peace plan provides and maintains legitimacy and rejects the rebels’ design to neutralize the institutions of governance. The initiative stipulates that the rebels withdraw their fighters from major cities, the capital Sana’a, Hodeida and Taiz, and hand over their weapons.

Negotiators have argued these possibilities in recent months. Militias’ withdrawal and seizure of their weapons not only promises peace but also strengthens the legitimacy of government forces. It will also be a measure of their seriousness and will help reveal their true position, which cannot be figured out through the promises made by their representatives on the ground.

The envoy’s proposal makes it mandatory for the Houthis to create a buffer zone with Saudi Arabia. It requires withdrawal of all armed men inside Yemeni territories close to Saudi borders to beyond 30 kilometers in order to prevent engagement and assaults.

Yemen’s legitimate government immediately rejected the initiative saying it rewards the rebels. It objected to the appointment of a vice president to whom the president’s jurisdictions can be transferred to. They consider the vice president’s post as a window of opportunity to transfer executive powers to rebels and where the president’s post becomes symbolic or partial, like the case is in Lebanon.

We expect the UN envoy to provide commitments to guarantee implementation of the initiative’s promises so the Houthis and Saleh’s forces hand over their heavy weapons and withdraw their fighters from major cities

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Spirit of reconciliation

We cannot underestimate a logical objection but one cannot call for a reconciliation in which only one of the disputing parties pays the price. If President Hadi can impose a solution by force or by mutual consent, then we certainly welcome this and we support it.

The same applies to the rebels as they cannot impose their power over the state even though they govern Sanaa. Therefore, given this engagement, it’s a must to propose solutions in which both parties make concessions.

Despite the flaws in this proposal, and the fact that it stops short of our expectation, it’s still the best solution available. It is certainly a lesser evil compared to resumption of fighting. It is also based on the original plan, known as the Gulf initiative, as it includes a period of transition followed by elections. During this phase, the government has limited jurisdictions as it is temporary.

I reckon, the most important solution comes later after the end of the transition period, which must be short. Following this, the Yemeni people must make their own choices through elections.

If the majority of the Yemeni people choose someone from the former president’s party, i.e. from the General People’s Congress, or from the Houthis, then it is their right to do so. If they elect someone from outside these two camps, then this confirms the validity of our position. In all cases, who governs Yemen is the Yemeni people’s choice and not that of the Gulf countries or Iran.

Rewarding the rebels?

Does the Ould Cheikh initiative reward the rebels, as the Yemeni government officials claim? If there is an international mechanism that guarantees implementation of commitments, based on the items of the proposal we read about in media outlets, then the initiative is not a gift to the Houthis and to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Instead it is a compromise in which each party gets its demands.

We must bear in mind that all plans proposed since the days of the Gulf initiative, and after the coup, does not deprive the Houthis and the General People’s Congress the right to participate in governance. It only prohibits a list of certain people such as the former president himself.

What’s new in Ould Cheikh’s initiative is that the vice president’s post may go to the Houthis or someone else. But this is a temporary post, like that of the rest of the interim government officials and it will only last until the elections, which must be scheduled by the UN envoy.

The proposed initiative represents ideas that are not final yet it aims to close the gap following meetings between different parties in Kuwait, Riyadh, Switzerland and Britain. It’s a good base for holding discussions for a final solution to end the war, restores legitimacy and blocks the intervention of foreign powers.

We expect the UN envoy, Ould Cheikh, to provide clear and specific commitments from the UN Security Council to guarantee implementation of the initiative’s promises so the Houthis and Saleh’s forces hand over their heavy weapons and withdraw their fighters from major cities. This mechanism will prevent the rebels from getting armed and hamper their ability to fight if they defy the authorities again.

This article was first published Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 31, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.