After the breakdown of the Geneva rounds of peace talks that sought to resolve the Yemeni crisis, hopes turned to Kuwait where a hundred days failed to produce a breakthrough in international diplomatic efforts to end the war that erupted in 2014.
This summer, after a long hiatus, attention turned to the renewed drive steered by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths who had tried to produce something new in the most complicated crisis in the Middle East.
Rather than starting from where his predecessors had left off, he began from scratch and, as he said, met with all sides and listened to all conflicting views.
He held innumerable meetings with Houthi leaders in Sanaa, with leaders from the internationally recognised government based in Aden, with experts on the Yemeni crisis and with numerous influential figures in London, Riyadh, Muscat and elsewhere.
Analysts felt that some of the meetings were important while others only revived individuals who no longer have the clout to influence events.
This all took a considerable amount of time — all the more when reckoned in terms of the lives of the Yemeni people who continue to suffer the ravages of war, blockade, economic hardship, hunger and disease.
That “something” was to come to fruition in Geneva, where Griffiths set 6 September as the date for talks between the disputants after more than two years of diplomatic stagnation.
The UN envoy tried to make all the necessary arrangements to ensure that this important step worked. He was also assured that the Houthis were looking forward to the consultations in Geneva and were optimistic.
But when the time came, the Yemeni government delegation appeared on time, but the Houthi delegation did not. Griffiths asked people to give the Houthi delegation more time to deal with pending issues, but it still did not show up.
In a press conference on 8 September, he confessed to the inability of “discussions and negotiations and arrangements and options and alternatives” to get the delegation from Sanaa to Geneva.
So as not to have to declare total failure and in the hope of keeping avenues open, he said, “it’s too early for me to say when the next round of consultations will take place or will be held,” and expressed his resolve to travel to Muscat and Sanaa in the coming days.
Griffiths’ remarks angered the Yemeni government delegation. According to the head of the government delegation Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani, what the UN envoy told the press was different to what he had told the members of his delegation.
He charged that Griffiths had pitched his statement to the press to “appease the Houthis and justify their behaviour” whereas in his meeting with the Yemeni government delegation he had criticised the Houthis’ behaviour.
Ansar Allah leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi claimed that his movement’s delegation was obstructed from leaving the capital, Sanaa, in order to attend the talks.
In a televised address broadcast on Houthi media, he explained that a number of wounded individuals who were to accompany the delegation were refused permission to travel.
He also complained that he had been unable to obtain sufficient guarantees from the UN that the Houthi negotiating delegation would be able to return to Sanaa.
He insisted that the delegation should have the right of access to safe travel with the airlines of a neutral country such as China or Russia, or even Kuwait.
Evidently, the Houthis were suspicious of the offer of a UN plane.
In June 2015, the Houthi delegation’s plane was delayed a full day in its trip to Switzerland because, the Houthis claim, Sudanese and Egyptian civil aviation authorities refused to allow the delegation’s plane to pass through their country’s airspace.
The civil aviation authorities in both Cairo and Khartoum deny this. The talks had to be postponed from 14 to 16 June.
The Houthis then missed the first day of the Biel negotiations without offering an explanation. T
he Houthi delegation was about a week late in arriving for the talks in Kuwait. At the end of that long session, they refused to sign the understandings that had been signed by the government delegation.
Such facts are indicative of how low the mutual confidence has sunk between the parties to the Yemeni conflict for whom Geneva 3 was to offer an opportunity to speak about the future of their war-torn country in which divisions have been aggravated by exploitative foreign intervention.
As peace prospects receded and mutual recriminations continue to echo in the wake of the UN envoy’s failure to make progress in bridging views and building trust, it appears that a lack of frankness and clarity in diagnosing the problem and remedying its effects has undermined the ability to reach and sustain understandings.
To aggravate the situation, international resolutions are finding less and less scope for application which has enabled putschists to turn UN weakness to their advantage and to exploit international rivalries over the region.
The lack of clarity on the roots and nature of the Yemeni crisis as a whole only compounds the fog that clouds the avenues to peace.
The coup should be called what it is and condemned as a political act. A mechanism must be devised to reinstate the legitimate government and rebuild the state in accordance with the three established frames-of-reference, and all parties should understand that negotiations need to deal with viable solutions in accordance with international resolutions and an accurate portrayal of the problem.
To turn the consultation and negotiating process back to square one is not just a waste of time. It is also waste of the lives and the hopes of the Yemeni people whose dreams have been mangled in the machinery of war.
All means possible must be brought to bear to end this war as quickly as possible, not only because of its consequences for Yemen but also because of the dangers it presents to the Gulf and the world as a whole.
This is a war in which Yemeni territory and the Yemeni people are being exploited to promote other projects. Its perpetuation is serving only the agendas of powers involved in conflicts elsewhere in the region, such as Iran which sees Yemen as a low-cost environment in which to lure Gulf countries into a war of attrition without clear rules of engagement.
To Western powers, the Yemeni conflict is a means to keep the Arab region embroiled in conflict and further weaken its governments so that those powers can more easily sap the resources of these countries and control their fates.
Such intents have been made clear through the unending tests of lethal smart weapons in this conflict-plagued region and through the countless arms deals for astronomical prices.
At a broader humanitarian level, Yemen has not only experienced a coup against its government and a usurpation of power, it has also undergone a more painful coup.
This one is against the value of life in Yemen by means of the deliberate impoverishment, degradation and starvation of the country for the benefit of a handful of elites.
The alarming numbers cited in international and local reports inform us that the vast majority of Yemeni people are in urgent need of humanitarian relief.
Poverty has no religion and obeys no rules and threatens to make the situation far worse for Yemen and for the region as a whole.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Yemen: Peace moves out of reach