The Houthis did not delay in rejecting the Saudi initiative for a ceasefire in Yemen, despite the implicit Saudi recognition of the reality that the war resulted in, and placing the Houthis today in a strong position in any peace negotiations that might take place in the future.
As soon as the Saudi initiative was announced, the chief Houthi negotiator, Muhammad Abdul Salam, tweeted, describing it as “an initiative directed to media consumption, neither serious nor new in it.” So what did the “comprehensive” initiative announced by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud included?
The initiative stipulated that, once it is approved by the Yemeni government and the Houthis, the United Nations will supervise the implementation of the following provisions:
- The fighting on all fronts across the country was halted and monitored by United Nations forces.
- Partially reopening Sanaa airport and allowing the import of fuel and foodstuffs through the port of Hodeidah.
- Establish a mechanism to share customs revenues for the airport and port between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis.
- Opening a joint bank account to pay government employees’ salaries across the country.
- Resumption of political negotiations between the two parties.
However, the Houthis rejected the initiative altogether, claiming that it did not meet their demands for a complete lifting of the blockade of Sanaa Airport and the port of Hodeidah, which are currently under their control.
In statements to Reuters, Muhammad Abd al-Salam said, “Opening the Sanaa airport and the port of Hodeidah is one of our human rights, and therefore it should not be used as a tool to pressure us.”
The Houthis believe that the Saudi air and sea blockade on Yemen was a major reason behind the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians due to the war, the spread of epidemics and famine, in the worst humanitarian crisis the world has witnessed. The Houthis require lifting the blockade before discussing the details of concluding any peace agreement.
In a tweet on his Twitter account, Abd al-Salam added: “Any initiative or formula that does not acknowledge that Yemen has been a victim of aggression and siege for more than six years and does not distinguish between humanitarian issues and reaching a political or military agreement does not carry anything new for us.”
The Houthi negotiator concluded by saying, “The Houthis will continue talks with Riyadh, the United States and the Sultanate of Oman, the mediating country, in an attempt to reach a peace agreement.
While the Houthis began to oppose the initiative, the Yemeni government welcomed it in Aden. Iran also announced its support for any peace plan that would lift the siege on the Yemenis and lead to a political solution that would lead to the formation of a national government.
In Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised the Saudi initiative. It was also welcomed by Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Sudan and the Emirates, in addition to the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
The initiative has also won widespread international support. At the United Nations, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, welcomed her. In Washington, the United States praised Saudi Arabias commitment to launching a political process in Yemen. In Brussels, the European Union considered the initiative a positive step in the search for a lasting peace in Yemen. In London, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab tweeted, “A ceasefire is necessary, and he called on the Houthis to take steps towards peace and an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
According to observers, the Saudi initiative comes in response to international diplomatic efforts led by both the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and the US special envoy, Tim Lenderking. Although Riyadh was aware that the Houthis would not accept at first glance some of the terms of its initiative, it proceeded to announce it to prove that it is in line with the US position calling for an end to the fighting in Yemen.
BBC International Affairs correspondent Lise Doucette says that Saudi Arabias announcement of its willingness to make concessions, such as lifting the naval and air blockade on Yemen, coincided with continuous military operations by the Houthis on the strategic town of Marib and an intense series of Houthi drones on oil installations and Saudi security infrastructure.
In the media, at least, it does not appear that the Houthis are in a hurry to stop the fighting at the present time, despite the continued deaths and injuries in the military confrontations on the battlefronts, or as a result of the air strikes by Saudi air forces. There is a perception that weakness has leaked into the military coalition led by Riyadh and may have become impossible for it to resolve this war militarily, in the absence of US military support for Saudi military operations since the beginning of this year, and the Houthis ’ability to direct more accurate military strikes against Saudi targets.
Consequently, the positions of the two sides seem to be far apart today to sit at the negotiating table and accept each other. Saudi Arabia will not rush to make other concessions at the present time, and the Houthis do not see the time as the right time to stop hostilities to control new territories that will secure them a strong position the day negotiations begin.
In your opinion, why did the Houthis reject the Saudi offer for a ceasefire?
Are Saudi concessions enough to stop the war?
Do you expect Saudi Arabia to offer new concessions?
Can Riyadh bear the burdens of this war for another months?
Can the international community put pressure on the Houthis to enter negotiations?
We will discuss these and other topics with you in the episode on Wednesday, March 24th.
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