Ansar Allah, the armed Houthi movement, does not seem to mind extending the truce, but they fear the intentions of those who call for its renewal. In their world view, the US can only be up to no good in Yemen, so Washington’s repeated calls for a new truce are special cause for concern. As per their famous slogan, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews,” the US, Israel and Jews are natural enemies of Yemenis and Muslims. That is the standard line in all schools and universities in Houthi-controlled areas, as well as in the indoctrination camps they hold for public servants.
In private meetings, Houthi leaders argue that this discourse is necessary propaganda, dictated by the need to mobilize jihadis for the ongoing war; however, it is clear that they too have internalized the slogan. Their belief that the US and the West cannot possibly mean well has meant that, throughout the truce, the Houthis have not responded favorably to the UN Special Envoy’s de-escalation proposals.
But blame does not lie solely with Ansar Allah. UN Resolutions meant to ostracize the Houthis for derailing Yemen’s political process have isolated them from the rest of the world and created the conditions for them to hold on to their xenophobic narrative. Their diplomatic contacts are monopolized by their Negotiation Delegation, headed by Mohammed Abdel Salam and based in the Omani capital Muscat. This gives inordinate leverage to the viewpoints held by the delegation. It also denies other Houthi leaders the benefit of interacting with international diplomats and exchanging views that would give them a better understanding of the “other.” Houthi leaders have not responded well to repeated attempts by Western diplomats to start a dialogue, and have refused to participate in Track II meetings that would bring them into greater contact with other Yemenis, international diplomats and INGO workers. But there has also been little effort by INGOs to organize meetings and events in Sana’a.
The Houthis are prisoners of their own narrative. Their decisions and actions are determined by it, including their use of the truce to frantically recruit fighters and prepare for the next round of fighting. Other constituents of the Houthi-led coalition, such as the Sana’a-based faction of the General People’s Congress, as well as many elites based in the capital, do not subscribe to the same xenophobia. They point to the massive humanitarian response led by the West as proof that they are not Yemen’s enemies. However, these voices are not the decision-makers in Sana’a. The Houthi leadership’s narrative is detrimental to the hopes of Yemenis for peace but, ultimately, it is also detrimental to the chances of the group’s ability to remain relevant in the future.