A diplomatic breakthrough towards resolving deep conflict in Libya

Thursday, 2018-11-15 12:50:56
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A policeman stands guard inside Villa Igiea, the venue of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy, Nov. 12, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – An international conference on Libya recently concluded in Palermo, Italy with a glimmer of hopes for opening a peaceful door to the North African nation. Key Libyan political leaders have pledged to follow a United Nations-backed political process. This is considered a significant diplomatic breakthrough aimed towards resolving the deep conflicts between the rival factions in Libya.

One of the successes of the Palermo conference was to bring both General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) that controls much of eastern Libya, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), to the dialogue table. General Haftar, from the citadel in Benghazi, arrived in Palermo following doubts about his important presence. General Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Sarraj held a rare private meeting on the sidelines of the conference, which was also the first between the two in the past five months. Ahead of the conference, General Haftar announced he would not attend a working dinner with other leaders, although he had planned to do so previously. According to the self-styled LNA, General Haftar came to the Palermo conference just to meet with leaders of countries in the region to discuss the latest proceedings.

General Haftar stated that he will be pleased if Sarraj continues to serve as the GNA prime minister until the elections are held as planned, which is seen as a diplomatic progress leading the two rival factions in Libya towards resolving conflicts. The two sides, between which there exist many differences in terms of interests, voiced their support for the UN’s new plan. Accordingly, the North African nation will hold a national conference in Libya early next year and then the parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2019.

The Palermo conference on Libya attracted the participation of representatives from European and Arab countries and the United States. A total of 38 delegations confirmed their attendance, including 10 government leaders and officials, and foreign ministers from 20 countries. Experts said that Russia, France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) supported General Haftar, while Turkey and Qatar favoured the factions in opposition to General Haftar’s forces, especially the Islamic groups. With the presence of representatives from many countries, this is an opportunity for the parties concerned to negotiate a roadmap to peace for Libya.

However, the new UN roadmap rejected the French initiative from the conference on Libya held in Paris last May, which had proposed holding elections in Libya this December. This raises doubts surrounding the ability to implement the commitments made at the Palermo conference. Moreover, outside their commitments to supporting the new UN plan, the parties did not make any specific decisions. The issues of decisive importance to Libya’s political fortunes were not specifically discussed as of yet. Libya is in need of establishing a unified military force as well as a state-controlled police force. The reallocation of benefits from oil – one of the key factors that could end interest oppositions and conflicts and bring peace to Libya – has also yet to be addressed.

In the context of the complicated proceedings with prolonged disputes and conflict in Libya over the past several years, the rival factions agreeing to sit together at the negotiating table in Palermo has paved the way for dialogue. However, it is not at all easy to reach a political deal for a divided Libya, which currently sees the flourishing development of armed militant groups born out of chaos and turmoil. International efforts to remove the deadlocks in Libyan politics have not yet been successful. Furthermore, most of the Libyan factions share a stance of denying outside interference into the North African country, which had suffered heavy losses due to outside intervention in the NATO-led war to dethrone the Gaddafi regime in 2011. Libya has been experiencing more than eight years of conflict and turmoil since the “Arab Spring” but has yet to find a “real spring” for their own.