Tensions in Tripoli as Palermo ends with unclear outcome – November 19

Monday, 14th September, 2020

The Palermo Conference for Libya concluded on 13 Nov with a joint press conference by the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame, and the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, reiterating the need for Libya’s conflict to be solved politically, with no room for military means. A statement was issued at the closing of the Conference, signed by the Presidential Council (PC), the House of Representatives (HoR), the High Council of State (HCS), the Libyan National Army (LNA), the European Union (EU), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN), Arab League, in addition to representatives of over two dozen countries. The signatories reaffirmed support for the December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LNA) signed in Shkirat, Morocco, as the only existing framework providing comprehensive steps to achieve stability in Libya.

Talks at the Palermo Conference were split into separate working sessions focused on security and the economy. An additional security working session was held on 13 Nov, along with a general international conference, which Haftar reportedly refrained from attending. Meanwhile, Turkey withdrew from the Conference allegedly due to reports suggesting Haftar’s political advisors prevented Turkish officials from attending the security meeting held on the sidelines, which brought together regional and neighboring countries.

There is a clear Italian attempt to describe the Conference as a success in bridging the gap between the GNA and Haftar. An official spokesman of the Italian government stated Haftar agreed for Serraj to remain in position until elections are held.

However, beyond verbal commitments, the Conference fell short of providing conclusive outcomes towards elections and/or a binding agreement. In a joint statement by the HoR, HCS, and PC, parties expressed commitment to ensuring technical, legislative and political conditions are met to hold elections, though without providing a clear roadmap. The parties also agreed on the need to adopt a national constitution and expressed support for the Egypt-endorsed military unification talks to build military/security institutions under civilian control.

It appears that Palermo has simply set another artificial deadline to resolve the Libyan crisis. Salame is planning for a second conference to be held in Italy at the end of Nov 2018 to push for Libyan elections to be held between March and July 2019, preceded by a National Conference in Jan. Overall, Palermo’s results are unclear, beyond political rhetoric and statements, observers suggest the conference failed to produce a groundbreaking solution to end the political deadlock. Whilst it remains too early to assess the long-term ramifications of the Palermo Conference, it has certainly contributed to strengthening Haftar’s position as a capable security guarantor.

Salame’s planned Jan 2019 National Conference, the “Multaqa”, faces multiple challenges. The “bottom-up” approach bringing together local actors may yield positive results, though it could also exarcebate tensions locally. There are emerging signs militia leaders are beginning position themselves to secure a more advantageous bargaining position ahead of Jan 2019. This is illustrated by the uneasy calm prevailing in Tripoli after tensions in the South and a 72-hour deadline (expiring on 21 Nov) set by the Tarhuna-based 7th Brigade, known as AlKaniat militia, calling on the Ghneiwa militia to surrender the Tripoli International Airport (TIP) area. The precise motive behind Al-Kaniat’s move is unclear, and while the development is likely opportunistic, there is a possibility it is also an attempt to compel the Ghneiwa militia to dissolve and/or join the new security arrangements.

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