A two-day conference will be hosted in Palermo to bring Libya's rival governments to the table, but some prominent Libyans have more confidence in the UN-backed talks scheduled forJanuary 2019.

Despite rumors of his possible absence, Khalifa Haftar, a strognman who dominates eastern Libya, arrived the Palermo talks under Italian political sponsorship, He arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on May 29, 2018.
Despite rumors of his possible absence, Khalifa Haftar, a strognman who dominates eastern Libya, arrived the Palermo talks under Italian political sponsorship, He arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on May 29, 2018. (Philippe Wojazer / Reuters)

Representatives of both the western and eastern governments in civil war-torn Libya were supposed to meet in the Sicilian city of Palermo in Italy - itself a former colonial power in Libya - on November 12 to end the ongoing violence. 

Previous reports suggested that Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, a Libyan heavyweight and possible replacement to slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, may not attend the talks. But he arrived in Palermo Monday evening and had a brief conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti, skipping the high-level dinner hosted by Conti.  

Ever since the North African country sank into a civil war in 2011, its western regions have been governed by the UN-backed and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), led by prime minister Fayez al Sarraj. The Tobruk-based rival government, led by the Libyan strongman Haftar, took control of eastern territories.

Since the toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has two divided governance which are a UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a Tobruk-based rival government.
Since the toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has two divided governance which are a UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a Tobruk-based rival government. (Samet Catak / TRTWorld)

Libya has a moderate population of six million people, almost half of its neighbour, Tunisia, where the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring exploded in 2011. 

Though Gaddafi ruled the country with an iron fist for 42 years, keeping various tribes in check and stifling dissent, today the ruling bodies of the eastern and western regions are dealing with various competing militias that seek to gain a bigger foothold. 

The Libyan civil war has killed thousands and displaced more than 200,000 people. The latest Italian effort is yet another attempt to develop a political framework to end the civil war. 

Here are the key issues the conference aims to address: 

Stability vs. elections

Foreign intervention has long overshadowed the Libyan civil war. Recently, France and Italy have become two competing influences in Libyan politics. 

Paris organised a political conference in May to bring the divided governments to the table. The conference, defending elections in December, failed to yield any decisive outcome over the electoral process. If polls do go ahead, a neutral security apparatus is required to monitor them in a landscape full of hostile armed groups.  

In contrast to the French-sponsored Libya talks, Italy wants to focus on long-term stability without designating any timeline on drafting a constitution or scheduling elections, which is what Paris insisted on in the May conference. 

Who supports whom?

With fast-changing alliances, it’s hard to describe the Libyan power structure. With militias’ changing loyalties, the country is embroiled in political instability.  

Haftar, a military general during the Gaddafi regime, has lived in Virginia as the US citizen for more than two decades. He is now fighting against the UN-supported government in west Libya, which is also supported by Washington. 

Earlier this month Russians, following their bold intervention in Syria, have reportedly deployed troops in eastern Libya to reinforce Haftar’s political position. 

Haftar is also backed by Egypt, the UAE, and tacitly by France. Some even consider the May talks were organised by France as a measure to empower Haftar. The Palermo initiative is apparently aiming to limit French efforts, but even the Italian government does not have a unified front concerning the Libyan conflict. 

News reports suggest the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conti, has not consulted his foreign ministry and the UN, following in the footsteps of French President Emmanuel Macron, who hastily organised the May meeting without much hype. 

Until now, Italy has been supporting the Tripoli-based government, just as Turkey and Qatar do. 

According to some prominent Libyan citizens, including Nezar Zeglam - a financial consultant and the son of Hassan Zeglam, the country’s first finance minister after the uprising - some kind of political compromise is expected to come up in early 2019 with elections rescheduled for March. 

Nezar believes neither Sarraj nor Haftar will run for leadership posts if the elections occur in the near future, preferring to lead Libyan politics behind the scenes. 

It is not the Palermo summit but the UN-sponsored talks in January that matter the most, said Emad al Ganga, a Libyan businessman who is also nephew to Bel Qassem al Ganga, one of the most powerful Gaddafi-era military generals.

Ganga said that both pro and anti-Gaddafi factions will be brought to table during the January talks and from there onwards Libya will see some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Source: TRT World