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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

The moment for peace in Yemen must be seized 

Now, the political will of the coalition has to be reciprocated by the Houthi rebels

Supporters of Houthi rebels gather in Sanaa. Yahya Arhab / EPA
Supporters of Houthi rebels gather in Sanaa. Yahya Arhab / EPA

Earlier this year, 250 high-ranking government and UN officials from around the world gathered in Stockholm to discuss "the politics of peace". Those words rarely sit comfortably side by side but the subject of this year’s Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development now seems prescient, as the city will soon become the place where all factions in the Yemen conflict meet in an attempt to negotiate an end to the fighting. As Karen Pierce, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, said before the Security Council last week: “There is a window of opportunity to tackle this man-made crisis … what men have created, men can resolve.”

It has, nevertheless, taken nearly four years to get here. In that time, Yemen has endured what is now widely viewed as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Food, aid and medical supplies are in desperately short supply and, despite the billions dispatched to alleviate suffering from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, only a meaningful dialogue and political will can end the suffering of the Yemeni people. Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, has tweeted his support for the mission of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths to bring all warring parties together, adding: “Political solution key to addressing humanitarian situation on the ground”. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir added: “We support a peaceful solution in Yemen and the efforts of [Mr Griffiths].” Following the endorsement of the Saudi-led coalition, which supports the restoration of the legitimate government of Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, the next stage is, as Dr Gargash says, one of “good faith”. Concessions have recently been made to the Houthi rebels – who seized the Yemeni capital of Sanaa by force in 2014 – including the evacuation of injured fighters. Mr Griffiths has even offered to accompany them to Sweden as a confidence-building measure. However, it is worth bearing in mind that we have been here before. The Houthis have twice had an olive branch extended to them – most recently in September in Geneva – and twice refused it. This is a critical moment in the peace process and one that must be seized by all sides.

The talks are scheduled to take place before the end of the year but they are only the first step in restoring dignity and stability to Yemen. The nation will will need basic supplies, infrastructure and huge injections of capital before any normality returns. While Houthis have done little to earn credibility and were reportedly behind ballistic missiles launched at Hodeidah port on Saturday, even after a ceasefire had been imposed, we can only hope that they will see the benefits of averting a deepening crisis and act in the best interests of all Yemenis.