World View: Italy’s Libya Peace Talk Conference Ends in Drama but No Resolution

Italy crisis talks end after laying bare Libya divisions

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  • Italy’s Libya peace talk conference ends in drama but no resolution
  • Split in Libya reflects the fault line in the Arab world

Italy’s Libya peace talk conference ends in drama but no resolution

Fayez al-Serraj (L), Giuseppe Conte (C) and Khalifa Haftar. Conte got them to shake hands and smile, even though al-Serraj and Haftar hate each other (AFP)
Fayez al-Serraj (L), Giuseppe Conte (C), and Khalifa Haftar. Conte got them to shake hands and smile, even though al-Serraj and Haftar hate each other (AFP)

Seven years after the fall of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya now has two governments. In the West, including the capital city Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj leads a weak government known as the Government of National Accord (GNA) internationally recognized by America, Europe, and the United Nations.

Most of the east of Libya is ruled by Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman and former Gaddafi ally considered an international “renegade.” There are fears that a war will break out between the eastern and western factions at some time in the near future.

It is doubtful that most Europeans care deeply who is in charge of Libya, but one thing that they do care deeply about is the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe. For that reason, the Europeans want to see a single government in Libya and one with which it can negotiate to keep the migrant flow under control.

Libya’s former colonial power Italy hosted a conference in Palermo on Tuesday to bring all interested parties together, with the objective of having an election for the leader of a unified government.

The conference was hosted by Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte. About 20 countries are participating in the conference, including representatives from the U.S., European governments and Arab countries. Top names in attendance include Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, European Council President Donald Tusk, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

The conference did not accomplish much, but there was a lot of drama.

Originally, Haftar refused to say whether he would even come to Palermo. Then Haftar did arrive, but on Tuesday said that he would not attend the conference, choosing instead to “hold a series of meetings with presidents of regional countries to discuss the latest national and international developments” on the sidelines.

So then Haftar attended a meeting on the sidelines of the conference also attended by Fayez al-Serraj as well as leaders of France, Russia, and Italy.

However, Turkey was not invited to that particular meeting. Turkey’s vice president Fuat Oktay stormed out of the international conference, blaming Conte for “attempts to keep Turkey out of the process” in Libya.

At the end of the conference, there was no statement issued. But the parties agreed that an election previously scheduled for December would not be held, but would be postponed to May of next year. Many people considered the conference a great success simply because Fayez al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar smiled and shook hands. Deutsche Welle and Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey) and Middle East Eye and Reuters

Split in Libya reflects the fault line in the Arab world

One reason that the split between east and west Libya has not been resolved is their supporters are split along the same growing fault line that became apparent several years ago.

Turkey, Qatar, and Italy all support the western GNA government of Fayez al-Serraj and are supportive of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Russia, France, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) support Haftar, who is an anti-Islamist military man.

This split in the Arab world has been growing in recent years. Recall that in June of last year, several Arab states – including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and United Arab Emirates (UAE) – broke relations with Qatar and imposed an air, sea and land blockade on Qatar. The blockade is still in place with no end in sight, despite international attempts to resolve it.

More recently, the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, apparently by a Saudi hit squad, became an international incident, adding more tensions between Saudi Arabia versus Turkey and Qatar.

This deepening split among the Arab and Mideast nations makes it all the more unlikely that agreement will be reached on a unified government in Libya.

The situation is complicated still further by signs that Russia is deepening its military involvement in Libya, sending in Vladimir Putin’s “private” military companies (PMCs) as he has done in Syria and Central African Republic. (See “7-Nov-18 World View — Suspicions grow about Russia’s Wagner PMC mercenary group in Central African Republic”)

Putin has taken an interest in Libya at least since the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 and has actively supported Khalifa Haftar. There have already been military clashes between Haftar’s forces and militias around Tripoli in the West, and the involvement of Russia makes Syrian war situation more likely than an election. Al-Jazeera (Qatar) and Meduza (Russia) and Jamestown

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Libya, Italy, Giuseppe Conte, Government of National Accord, GNA, Fayez al-Serraj, Khalifa Haftar, Turkey, Fuat Oktay, Turkey, Qatar, Muslim Brotherhood, Russia, France, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Jamal Khashoggi, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Private Military Companies, PMCs, Central African Republic, CAR
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