Saudi Arabia/Yemen Peace Plan: What The Future Holds For The Poorest Country In The Middle East

After 6 years of violent conflict, Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister Faisal bin Farhan put forth a peace plan to end the Yemeni civil war. The plan which would reopen negotiations also includes the institution of a ceasefire that would be overseen by the United Nations. Additionally, the plan would introduce the partial reopening of major ports and airports in rebel-held areas of the country to allow for humanitarian aid to make its way to more than 20 million Yemenis currently endangered by war, famine, and illness. This assertion comes weeks after the Houthi rebel group sparked an offensive on the city of Ma’rib, one of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s last Saudi-backed strongholds in the Yemen. Thus, a prompt ceasefire could prove to be critical as it could hamper the chances of a complete Houthi town takeover.

Although Yemen’s internationally recognized government has shown its approval to the plan, the Houthis remain reluctant to sign on to it. The rebel group has reiterated that the deal does not make sufficient concessions and fails to fulfill their demand for a complete revival of economic activity among rebel-held commercial installations such as the Sana’a airport and the port of Hudaydah to the West.

This plan only comes a few weeks after U.S. President Biden’s decision to halt military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. A definitive cut off of U.S. support to the Saudis paired with a comprehensive ceasefire would inevitably force the conflict into a standstill and resolve some humanitarian issues Yemenis have been suffering with for most of the last decade.

The next step would be to compel Iran into joining the negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Even though we should not overestimate the extent of Iran’s proxy support for the Houthis, convincing Iran to freeze its funding for the rebel group would weaken the effectiveness of warfare as an option to settle disputes. If this were to happen, it could make way for a nonviolent process of diplomatic negotiations which would be a step towards resolving the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Although this peace plan is a step in the right direction, we must not forget that Saudi Arabia did not achieve its main goal in Yemen of eradicating the Houthi rebel group. On the other side of the spectrum, the Houthis have not achieved their end goal either: to acquire control of the country by taking over the capital, Sana’a. Yet, as long as the Houthis continue to organize along Saudi Arabia’s southern border, we are likely to see the conflict persist in the long run.

We must be careful not to feel too optimistic about this peace plan, but we must recognize the humanitarian benefits of a lasting ceasefire and the reopening of ports on the situation of millions of Yemenis.