Hopes of Libyan unity government vanishing

Friday 18/09/2015
Road blocked

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.