Webinar panellists: Ending the war in Yemen requires pressure from the Biden administration

7 March 2021
From top left clockwise: Gerald Fierstein, former US ambassador to Yemen; Mohammed Gezan, undersecretary of the Information Ministry of the legitimate Yemeni government; Al Jazeera Mubasher presenter Mohammed Dahou; Saeed Thabit, Chief of Al Jazeera’s Bureau in Sana’a; and Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of Ansar Allah’s political bureau. [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and Al Jazeera Mubasher hosted a webinar on Wednesday, 3 March 2021 entitled, “The Prospects of the Yemeni Crisis under the Biden Administration.” The panellists were Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of Ansar Allah’s political bureau; Mohammed Gezan, undersecretary of the Information Ministry of the legitimate Yemeni government; Gerald Fierstein, former US ambassador to Yemen; and Saeed Thabit, Chief of Al Jazeera’s Bureau in Sana’a. Al Jazeera Mubasher presenter Mohammed Dahou moderated the session.

At the beginning of the webinar, the panellists presented the reasons behind the eruption of a civil war in Yemen from their respective points of view, concluding that the crisis brought about a large-scale humanitarian tragedy that will not end unless the regional parties to the conflict are convinced of the necessity to end it and the United States intervenes strongly and resolutely to force the conflicting parties to end it. However, before that, the Yemenis must be determined to make their own political decision and search together for a solution without regional and international intervention.

In this regard, they indicated that the starting point must be one of the outcomes of the national dialogue that took place in 2014, after it became clear to everyone that it was impossible to resolve the battle militarily in favour of one party at the expense of the other parties.

The orientation of the Biden administration towards the crisis

The webinar started with the presentation of former US ambassador to Yemen Gerald Fierstein, in which he emphasised that his country will not allow the Houthis to continue targeting Saudi Arabia or harming civilians in Ma’rib and disregarding calls for an end to violence and serious negotiation to facilitate a solution that ends the fighting and achieves peace.

He revealed that Washington would like to sit down with the Houthis to find a peaceful settlement. He also revealed that United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, went to Iran – which supports the Houthis – to convince them to end the war and start a political process that would lead to a permanent settlement of this conflict. In this context, he shed light on what the new US administration’s envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, is doing and his current visits to various Gulf capitals for the same objective.

The US ambassador warned the Houthis not to miss the opportunity given to them by the Biden administration to reach a peaceful solution by removing their name from the list of terrorist organisations. “According to my experience and knowledge of President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, they feel strongly about the need to end conflict in Yemen and restart the political process according to the outcome of the national dialogue. They are also keen on the rebuilding of Yemen; and it will be unfortunate if the Houthis missed out on this opportunity,” he said. He concluded by saying, “the war will inevitably end as no war lasts forever but the question that we all should ask is, ‘is it time?’”.

The role of international pressure to end the war

On his part, Mohammed Gezan, undersecretary of the Information Ministry of the legitimate Yemeni government blamed the Houthis for the war in Yemen when they turned against the outcomes of the national dialogue.

With regards to the fighting on the Ma’rib front, Gezan said, “the Houthis want to control this province to change the balance of power,” and called for support for Ma’rib through a series of measures including: support for the legitimate government and the Yemeni military, renouncing the Stockholm Agreement that established the current ceasefire for the port and city of Hodeidah to pressure the Houthis, announcing of a public mobilisation to involve the Yemeni people in the liberation of Sana’a, and mobilising all fronts to undermine Houthi efforts.

The Yemeni official concluded his presentation by calling on the United States to increase pressure on the Houthis to end the war and the suffering of the people and force them to execute the outcomes of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and UN resolutions, especially resolution no. 2216 of 2015 that demanded that the Houthis end the violence and withdraw from all of the areas they seized during the conflict including the capital. “Without an international position, Gezan said, “the Houthis will continue their aggression unchecked.”

Conditional Houthi willingness to end the war

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, member of Ansar Allah’s political bureau, suggested that the cause of this war is not the Houthis but “the states of aggression,” particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and that his group is willing to end the war immediately under the condition that these states stop their attacks, lift the blockade “on the Yemeni people,” and stop interfering in Yemeni affairs and threatening Yemen’s security, sovereignty and territorial cohesion.

On the current situation in Ma’rib, he pointed out that it is an oil-rich province and that seizing control of it is necessary given the exacerbated blockade imposed on the country particularly with the prevention of oil products on which various aspects of life depend, such as diesel necessary to raise water from wells for drinking and agriculture.

Al-Bukhaiti concluded by saying that the Houthis “are determined to keep fighting until they liberate every inch of Yemen if the aggressors insist on following the same path.”

Ending the war is a Yemeni need and regional necessity

The webinar closed with a presentation by Saeed Thabit, Chief of Al Jazeera’s Bureau in Sana’a, in which he maintained that the Houthis misunderstood the United States’ decision to remove them from the list of terrorist organisations. Instead of moving towards a peaceful settlement, they escalated internally on the Ma'rib front and externally against Saudi Arabia, causing great harm to civilians.

Thabit expressed his expectation that US pressures will amplify if the Houthis maintain their course of action.

Regarding the prospects of ending the seven-year war, he asserted that the matter requires the will of all parties both in the country and abroad, saying “wars are not ended by wishing but by acknowledging facts on the ground.” He also expressed his lack of optimism about this happening anytime soon due to the inability of the negotiations that took place with the Houthis regarding the prisoner exchange to make a significant breakthrough.

Moreover, Thabit indicated that the regional and international factor will be more likely to end or continue the war in Yemen, stating “the decision of internal parties to the conflict has become, due to the length of the war, subject to their supporters abroad.” He concluded his presentation by calling on “Yemen’s free people” to save their country from war and foreign intervention, warning of the entailing humanitarian cost, the disintegration of the political entity and shaky security and stability of neighbouring countries.