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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

UN Geneva talks should restore legitimacy to Yemen's governance

The meeting cannot be an end in itself. The results are what counts – and they must bring an end to Yemenis' suffering
Yemenis fill gas cylinders amid a plummeting rial and increasing shortages in the capital Sanaa. Mohammed Huwais / AFP

As the United Nations-sponsored Yemen talks kick off in Geneva on Thursday, all thoughts will be on whether they can succeed. To assess the likely success or failure of the talks, clear goals need to be outlined.

Ultimately success will mean having the internationally recognised government of Yemen back in the seat of power in Sanaa, leading the country and providing for its people.

It should also lead to the end of the war and to reinstating state authority in the country. Any peace that is agreed must be a peace that holds.

In addition to dealing with an economy and armed groups in the country, the biggest challenge for the government will be reconstruction – both of the physical infrastructure and of society.

Given the current state of Yemen, those seem like lofty goals, ones which are difficult to envision in the near future. But the people of Yemen deserve no less.

Since Martin Griffiths’ appointment as UN envoy to Yemen in February this year, hopes have been high that a seasoned mediator filled with energy and insight could finally break the impasse.

In his repeat visits to Yemen and talks with various stakeholders, Mr Griffiths has reiterated the need to negotiate a settlement that could work for all sides.

No one side should be allowed to play the role of spoiler.

The Houthis have previously come to talks, only to refuse any constructive role. They have been playing from the Iranian regime’s playbook – on the one hand, having officials who receive European and UN diplomats and speak of “political solutions”.

On the other hand, their operatives are behind kidnappings, attack any opponents and hold their country to ransom.

Last month’s meeting between senior Houthi officials and Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah was widely publicised by Iranian-backed media, proving once more that the Houthis are emulating Hezbollah and intend on building a state within a state. With a country on the verge of collapse, a state within a state is a not an option for Yemen.

There can be no doubt that the Arab coalition’s decision to move on Hodeidah broke the stalemate.

The Houthis had been digging deeper in Sanaa, with no intention of governing for the benefit of the people of Yemen.

In the two years since the political process stalled, the Houthis have tried to create an image as the de facto leaders of Sanaa.

But in reality, they have failed in the most basic requirements of governance. What they did succeed in, however, was war-profiteering, where their control of the economy has been utilised solely for the purpose of war.

As the Yemeni rial continues its freefall, services on all levels of Houthi-controlled territory are failing.

Providing the groundwork for a revived Yemeni state is urgent, especially for the 22 million Yemenis in desperate need of humanitarian aid today.

Four weeks ago, when he announced the Geneva talks, Mr Griffiths said: “It is time to begin the difficult and uncertain journey away from war.”

It is also the time to restore governance and legitimacy to the state of Yemen.

The talks in Geneva are not starting without precedence. UN Security Council Resolution 2216, passed in April 2015, sets clear perimeters on where the international consensus rests on Yemen.

Some parties, primarily the Houthis and their backers, have tried to discredit the resolution, insisting that the situation has changed since.

However, since this is the only resolution that has been agreed upon, and was drawn up according to chapter VII of the UN charter, it must be respected and upheld.

In the absence of any other internationally agreed-upon document, the resolution represents a fundamental foundation for the talks. Any attempt to discard it will mean a return to square one.

While respecting Resolution 2216 and the internationally recognised and legitimate government of Yemen, this week’s talks need to find a way forward.

Confidence-building measure will be crucial. The talks will be long drawn out, with numerous items on the agenda, including the future of the central bank and the fate of detainees.

In working on these essential details, the long-term goal of reinstating the rightful government and ending the war cannot be lost from sight. There is a fine line between a process that leads to a positive conclusion and a process that becomes an end in itself.

Given the track record of UN talks relating to the region – and particularly the drawn-out Syria talks – caution must be exercised.

The fact that the Yemen talks are restarting after a two-year hiatus is significant.

Yet the meeting cannot be an end in itself. The results of the talks are what count – and those results must help restore legitimacy to Yemen’s governance and end the suffering of its people.