At present there are two rival governments, one in Tobruk, that is internationally recognized, the House of Representatives, consisting of representatives elected in elections last June. Some of those elected have not attended and do not recognize the legitimacy of the Tobruk government. The UN through its envoy Bernardino Leon held talks with those elected but boycotting the parliament in order to reach some type of political settlement. However, the alternative government formed in Tripoli by a bloc of Islamist and other militias who control Tripoli and part of Benghazi were not involved in the dialogue nor were the rival Islamist-led militias and those led by CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar.
The General National Congress was recalled by the Islamist bloc and appointed a rival prime minister Omar al-Hassi, who then formed an alternative government. The situation was complicated when the Libyan Supreme Court
ruled on November 6 , that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk parliament should be dissolved. The Tobruk government
rejected the ruling immediately. The UN claims to be studying the decision.
The decision has led the UN to begin a dialogue
with figures associated with the Tripoli government, although the language used by the UN still refers to Abdullah Al-Thinni of the Tobruk government as the Libyan "prime minister," even more than a week after the Supreme Court decision.
The recommendation by the Turkish envoy had already been suggested by prime minister Omar al-Hassi of the Tripoli government and a spokesperson for that government suggested that there should be a referendum on a new constitution that is being drafted and then general elections. Both sides appear to accept the committee drafting the constitution, so this could be a basis for a partial solution. However, there also needs to be a transitional government of some sort up until the referendum and elections. Jason Pack,
suggests that there should be a Unity Government composed of representatives from the competing groups.So far the Tobruk government has not shown any interest in the suggestion that there should be elections. They claim they are the legitimate government, internationally recognized and want it to stay that way even though they hold sway in only a few areas of Libya.
has achieved a break-through of sorts as the UN's envoy Leon was able to get the Islamist militias and General Haftar's forces to agree to a 12 hour humanitarian truce. The truce will allow the Red Crescent to evacuate citizens from the battle areas and also retrieve bodies of those killed. Haftar launched an offensive with the blessing and support of the Tobruk government to try to retake Benghazi. He has retaken some areas but not others, with many casualties. The truce is significant in that the UN was able to convince the Tobruk government, Haftar and the Islamist militias to cease fighting. As spokesperson for the UN mission
Samir Gattas said that "this and other confidence-building measures would certainly help in creating an atmosphere conducive for dialogue."
Perhaps the UN should be pushing the Tobruk government and Haftar towards accepting elections after a referendum on the new constitution. The UN should make it clear that they will not simply accept the legitimacy of the Tobruk government but demand a political settlement that avoids the issue of which government is legitimate entirely. In spite of the conflicts between different militias in different parts of the country most of the country manages to function. Even if the warring factions are unable to agree on a unity government as recommended by Pack, they may be able to work out some practical sharing of powers that will allow a period of relative peace until a referendum on a new constitution and then elections, or alternatively there could be elections agreed upon even before a referendum on a new constitution.
The truce in Benghazi provides at least a flicker of hope since the legitimate government sanctioned Haftar's offensive. By agreeing to a truce, the Tobruk government is recognizing the Islamist Shura Council militia as at least a force that can be part of negotiations and also it for once has paid heed to the UN demand that fighting must stop as a condition for dialogue to work.
Don't expect the mainstream media to say much about all this. What is important for them is that jihadists in the city of Derna have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. This is true enough but of little significance. Radical jihadists typically ally themselves with the most prominent radical jihadist group, which is no longer Al Qaeda but the Islamic State. Derna has been under control of radical jihadists for ages. Yet CNN makes a big deal of the situation which really has not changed at all. See the appended video. There are articles on the issue in Time,
, Washington Times
, and UPI
, just for starters. What is important is the radical Islamist threat narrative. This will hardly be conducive to working out any political settlement between the Islamist bloc and Haftar's militias. If what counts is the war on terror, this emphasis could result in a bigger mess in Libya through foreign intervention directed first at the Islamic State but no doubt would soon be widened to attack any Islamists who do not recognize the Tobruk government.