Palpable peace for now in Yemen

The extension of a ceasefire that has brought tangible benefits may persuade rival factions to seek a permanent peace.  

People push a cart of potatoes in Sanaa, Yemen, during a truce between government forces and Houthi rebels.

For what has been one of the world’s longest civil wars, peace now means far more than the absence of conflict. Over the past two months, a truce in the Arabian country of Yemen has brought tangible benefits, such as fuel supplies, commercial flights, and aid shipments to a population on the verge of mass famine. On Thursday, with the warring sides perhaps seeing victory in a new light, the truce was extended for another two months.

“The truce represents a significant shift in the trajectory of the war,” said U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, who helped negotiate the temporary cease-fire. Fear among civilians has been greatly reduced since the truce began April 2. As U.S. President Joe Biden noted Thursday, “Thousands of lives have been saved as fighting receded.”

It is still uncertain if the truce will hold and renew the promise of democratic unity that began in Yemen during the 2011 Arab Spring. Talks to end the war have been a bellwether for how much the two main rivals in the Middle East – Iran and Saudi Arabia – want to get along and end a proxy competition in Yemen. With each country facing internal challenges, support of external wars has been an expensive indulgence. Restless youth in both Iran and Saudi Arabia have tired of their leaders battling over which country better represents Islam.

Each side in Yemen has made concessions to help maintain the truce. They have shown “responsible and courageous decision making,” Mr. Grundberg stated. One of the most significant concessions was the removal of the Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the formation of a broad-based Presidential Council in April. Even though the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have not joined the council, the extension of the truce could now lead to talks on a political compromise.

Yemen is the Arab world’s most impoverished nation and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The war, which began in 2014, has killed over 150,000 people. Yet now, the renewal of a truce has created a canvas for Yemeni factions to paint the details of a permanent peace. With a revival of normal civilian life, it may be the Yemeni people who are showing that peace is a palpable possibility.

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