By dangling his participation at Palermo over the Italian government’s head, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar may have sought to exploit Italian desperation for his own benefit. After weeks of hinting that he would not attend, and raising Rome’s anxiety that the 12-13 November Palermo ministerial conference — the summit meeting of domestic and international stakeholders — would be doomed to fail, Haftar finally promised Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that he would be there. The attendance of major Libyan leaders does not guarantee a successful outcome, especially because there has been no clear agenda so far, but Haftar’s absence could have killed it before it even began.
Conte also met Prime Minister Fayez Serraj to discuss preparations for the 12-13 November summit meeting which has been widely criticised for lacking a formal agenda or goals. Some observers claim that this is why some high-level international officials have not yet agreed to attend. After his Rome meetings Serraj released his own agenda for what he would like to accomplish at the Palermo summit, including:
- Common domestic and international acceptance and support of the presidential and parliamentary electoral process which will be conducted in accordance to the constitution;
- An agreement to end the current divisions and consolidate the existing state institutions;
- Domestic and international support for the implementation of the Tripoli security arrangements agreed by the 4 September ceasefire; and
- Support for the economic reform package which was part of the ceasefire.
By focusing on cultivating domestic and international support for the arrangements agreed upon in the 4 September ceasefire, Serraj appears to be intent on maintaining power in Tripoli. Every sub-section of his agenda, except the first, had to do with the situation in the capital.
Besides anything else, the actual summit will not produce new policies because negotiations and agreements on assistance and other deliverables are always hashed out in advance of the meeting. What is clear from the way these deliberations are unfolding is that there is still little common ground between Serraj and Haftar, who head the two most important factions in the ongoing political crisis. Any tangible results from the Palermo summit will be the result of bargaining rather than compromise.
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