Hopes of Libyan unity government vanishing
TUNIS - Hopes for a peace deal in Libya and a national unity government being announced soon vanished following changes to the Libya dialogue draft agreement by UN special envoy Bernardino Leon.
The internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk rejected the amendments and recalled its negotiating team for consultations. Two independent members of the dialogue announced a boycott, accusing Leon of appeasement towards the General National Congress (GNC) which controls the capital Tripoli.
Leon made the amendments to meet the demands of the GNC, which has been effectively boycotting the negotiations since the end of June in opposition to the draft. The development is a massive blow to the United Nations’ year-long effort to bridge the divide in Libya between the HoR, elected in 2014, and the GNC.
An agreement by September 20th — a target set by Leon — meant the envoy could have taken it to the UN General Assembly, which could give the deal international legitimacy. This would be unassailable in Libyan courts because it was a General Assembly vote that authorised the country’s independence in the first place.
The breakdown centres on the role of the State Council and Khalifa Haftar, appointed by the HoR as general commander of the Libyan armed forces, and Abdul Razzak al- Nazhuri, whom it appointed chief of staff.
In the draft agreement, the State Council’s powers were watered down at the HoR’s insistence. The GNC, 90 of whose members were supposed to become members of the 120-seat council, refused to accept the change and pulled out.
The draft was approved in July by all other Libya dialogue delegates. The GNC has since insisted on changes to the document as the price for rejoining the talks. The HoR, on the other hand, along with the independent dialogue participants and, until very recently, Leon insisted there could be no change to the draft text. Leon said GNC demands could be addressed in annexes.
That view became impossible when the GNC published its demands, which included that current members of the GNC be eligible to join the State Council and not, as stated in the draft, those elected in 2012, and that the GNC, not dialogue members, should decide who they should be.
They also demanded an increase in the State Council’s powers, specifically that it vote on the appointment and dismissal of heads of sovereign institutions and the withdrawal of confidence in governments and the appointment of new ones. They insisted that new military and security commanders be appointed — in effect demanding the removal of the controversial Haftar.
In response, HoR President Ageela Salah Gwaider sent Leon his own demands, insisting that there could be change to the text of the draft and that there could be no changes to laws and appointments already made by the HoR.
Desperate to bring the GNC back into the process and faced with its refusal to compromise on any of its demands, Leon opted to give it all it wanted. This meant changing the draft and applying intense pressure on the HoR team to accept it.
He announced there was “consensus” on making amendments but almost immediately the process fell apart. HoR negotiators may have accepted the change but the HoR in Tobruk was in no such mood despite the fact that, under the agreement, it remains far more powerful than the State Council.
Ignoring Leon’s appeal to be “generous” and agree to change the draft, it said “No.”
It is unclear where the dialogue now goes. A number of Western ambassadors privately expressed fears that Libya is heading into the unknown. They are particularly worried that without agreement by October 21st, when the HoR’s term of office expires, the process of trying to find a solution to the crisis will have to begin from scratch.
The chances of dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya and the waves of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe look all the more difficult.
The crisis appears to have strengthened the hand of Haftar, who plans to announce the creation of a military council to run Libya instead of a government. A number of HoR members in Tobruk back the idea.
Leon, whose handling of the negotiations is coming under increasing criticism, continues to put a positive spin on events. He responded to the crisis by saying that such diversity of views was perfectly normal and that, although there was a lack of trust between the parties, they were not that far apart and a formula to bridge the gap could be found.