11/13/2018, 18.49
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International Conference on Libya: losers and winners in Palermo

by Pierre Balanian

Through Al Sisi’s mediation, Italy gets Marshal Khalifa Haftar to come to Palermo. Rome takes the Libya file from France. The UN’s economic plan is accepted with a single bank collecting all oil revenues. Peace in Libya needs action on three fronts: economy, disarmament of the militias, and national reconciliation. Libyan assets frozen abroad amount to 500 billion US dollars.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) - The International Conference on Libya ended today in Palermo with an extraordinary diplomatic victory for Italy, after the two main antagonists, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sirraj, shook hands, and all the participants agreed to back the UN, which was represented  by Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, and his deputy Stephanie Williams.

Italy was able to successfully mediate behind the scene, especially via Egyptian president Abdel Al Sisi, the only head of state present at the event, along with Libya’s. Egypt is the fourth country of influence in Cyrenaica, after France, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Marshal Haftar depends on all three and could not say no to Egypt. Although he came, he snubbed much of the conference whilst smiling for photo-ops.

The Palermo Conference could not solve Libya’s problems. Some of the major players were not represented by their top leaders, i.e. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel. At the same time, local and other influential stakeholders who exert their influence in Libya discretely were also missing. Yet, Italy played an important and innovative role in setting the direction towards a long-term solution.

The UN’s Ghassan Salamé and Stephanie Williams were winners because they succeeded in getting Libya’s oil revenue into a single central bank controlled by Al Sirraj rather than in two. This should prevent money from getting into the pockets of the militias. This is also a first step towards elections, which require a constitution backed by everyone.

Italy is also a winner, taking over the Libya file from France, an important player in southern Libya with great influence on the militias. Thus, Rome gets back its unique position in Libya, a status that is now internationally recognised.

Haftar is another winner because he gets international recognition as does Prime Minister Al Sirraj whose power is confirmed by the international community, despite lack of domestic support. However, little came out of the conference for the Libyan people, at least on the short run.

A solution to the Libyan crisis can be spelled in three words: economy, disarmament of the militias, and national reconciliation. Without them, the crisis will overwhelm the country. Implementing all three cannot be done the Libyans alone; the UN is a necessary player.

According to data from the French Central Bank, frozen Libyan assets abroad amount to about 500 billion US dollars. This alone would be enough to rebuild the country and compensate Libyans for their loss of family members, a condition needed for national reconciliation.

Libya is still subject to Article 7 of the UN Charter, which authorises the use of force to restore peace. Even if Libyans have always been hostile to foreign occupation, a legacy of Gaddafi’s 40-year rule and anti-colonialism, disarming the militias under the supervision of UN troops might prove necessary.

National reconciliation remains the hardest goal. It cannot be done by other countries, but only by neutral and respected NGOs, capable of building relationships with and among Libya’s social, ethnic, linguistic and tribal groups. Special care should be given to the economy of the Fezzan, in southern Libya, a region that has always been marginalised and a hub for all sorts of trafficking, including humans.

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