A political solution in Libya seems impossible, so what now?

A political solution in Libya seems impossible, so what now?
Comment: Although the international players involved in Libya keep publicly affirming that the solution can only be political, many of them keep privately fueling the war, writes Guma ElGamaty.
6 min read
11 Feb, 2020
Talks in Geneva between Libya's warring parties ended again with no ceasefire deal [Getty]
Despite the launch of indirect military dialogue between the warring Libyan sides in Geneva, and the UNSMIL's promise of economic and political dialogue tracks to follow, a breakthrough in the Libyan conflict remains unlikely any time soon.

A political solution will be difficult to achieve, unless there is a genuine will to end the war by the international community, with security arrangements established as a precursor, including the withdrawal of Haftar's forces away from Tripoli and proper implementation and monitoring of the arms embargo. 

But foreign involvement from the likes of UAE, Egypt, France, Russia and Turkey is unlikely to cease, which means the war will continue, unabated. There is a high risk that Libya may become another catastrophe, similar to the state of Syria in 2020, with the conflict escalating and war stretching to new frontlines around the country, including areas where oil installations are located. 

Previous attempts to reach peace and a long-term political solution have so far failed to end the conflict and achieve a genuine accord between the different factions.

Following the violence and divisions that broke out in the summer of 2014, there was a political dialogue held between the main sides in Libya, initiated by the UN in September 2014. This culminated in the signing of the 
Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in Morocco in December 2015, which led to the formation of the current internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. 

Haftar was talking peace all along in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi but had no intention of sharing power

However, the LPA was never fully implemented in the period after this, and divisions in Libya festered, with Haftar continuing his military campaign and taking over the vital oil-crescent region, as well as large parts of the south of the country. Haftar's growing influence and military presence on the ground meant that he became a key player in the conflict, undermining the GNA and the entire political process. 

Attempts at accommodating Haftar and involving him politically were led by UNSMIL and key international players such as France and Italy. French president Macron hosted a summit between Haftar and GNA head Serraj in Paris in mid-2017, which resulted in a signed document proposing a roadmap to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections within six months. 

This eventually failed to materialise, which then led to Italy hosting another round of talks between the two at a conference in Palermo in 2018, with both sides renewing their commitment to holding elections in order to break the impasse. However, the agreement reached in Palermo also failed to achieve any tangible outcomes.

[Click to enlarge]

The most recent attempt to bridge the divide between the two sides came at the Abu Dhabi meeting in 2019, facilitated by UNSMIL's special envoy, Ghassan Salame. An understanding was apparently reached between Haftar and Serraj for a power-sharing agreement, which was to be ratified and formalised at a final national conference in the Libyan city of Ghadames on 14 April. 

However, this was completely undermined by Haftar's attack on Tripoli on 4 April 2019, 10 days before the conference was due to take place. This was the final proof that Haftar was talking peace all along in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi but had no intention of sharing power and was only biding time to prepare for his assault on the capital, Tripoli, and attempt to gain full control over Libya. 

After several attempts to reach peace and a long-term political solution, the question now is whether a total military victory of one side over the other the only possible solution left to this intractable conflict? 

The Berlin conference held on 19 January earlier this year also failed to achieve any real breakthrough and no concrete action has been taken to curb outside interference and supply of arms, as was called for in the final statement. Political, military and economic dialogue tracks were agreed at the conference, but how likely is it for these to succeed?

What needs to happen to ensure a political solution can be reached to resolve the conflict?

No concrete action has been taken to curb outside interference and supply of arms

The international community and foreign backers of both sides must stop fueling the war with fresh supplies and mercenaries, and must fully respect the arms embargo. A consensus needs to be achieved amongs foreign backers of both sides, to ensure there is agreement on the best way to move the peace process in Libya forward. 

Military and security arrangements will need to be agreed before any political or economic dialogue tracks can take place, with a permanent ceasefire agreed and the withdrawal of Haftar's forces away from the capital Tripoli.

This will help ensure there is no return to fighting and to allow the return of around 200,000 displaced civilians to their homes and schools.

However, another outbreak of violence now seems inevitable with the fragile ceasefire brokered in Moscow on 13 January, already being broken almost daily. The military dialogue held in Geneva (5+5) was meant to turn this ceasefire into a permanent one, as well as agree on future security arrangements, though this has been adjourned with no agreement reached. 

Read more: It's time for the ICC to indict Haftar for war crimes

The US embassy in Libya on 8 February also "noted with concern credible reports that significant military actions are being contemplated by forces affiliated with both the LNA and the GNA in the near future," which indicates that it is highly likely that both sides will return to fighting, and that the war will continue for the foreseeable future.

Although all the international players involved in the Libyan conflict keep publicly affirming that there is no military solution and the solution can only be political, many of them keep privately fueling the war.

Another attempt at achieving a political solution, without a fundamental change in attitude by those countries concerned, is inevitably going to fail. 

Both sides are currently talking peace but preparing extensively for war, which will only bring more bloodshed, suffering and instability. Reality and dynamics on the ground indicate that the only assured final solution in Libya is a military one, in which one side achieves a total comprehensive victory over the other.

The Libyan conflict is essentially a conflict between a military dictatorship discourse and a civic democratic discourse. Hopefully, for the sake of the Libyan people and their aspirations for freedom, it will be the side that believes in establishing a constitutional democracy that will eventually prevail.

Guma El-Gamaty is a Libyan academic and politician who heads the Taghyeer Party in Libya and a member of the UN-backed Libyan political dialogue process. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Guma_el_gamaty

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.