The Advantages of a Cease-Fire in Libya
Muammar Gaddafi accepted an African Union plan to end the Libyan civil war but rebels said on Monday there could be no deal unless he leaves power, and there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting. ~Reuters
The rebels have good reason to view anything the AU offers with suspicion, but the same might be said of Turkish attempts at mediation, or indeed any diplomatic solution that does not hand the rebels their major political objectives. The main objection to the AU plan is that it leaves Gaddafi and his sons in place for the time being and might allow Gaddafi to hang on or remain free in Libya even if he hands over control to one of his sons. The rebels are acting as if they are in a position to gain more by refusing a deal right now, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It is the rebels that need time to organize, train, and acquire the means to sustain “Free Libya” for the foreseeable future, and as long as the fighting continues and keeps going badly for their side they won’t be able to do that. There is every reason to doubt that Gaddafi would honor a cease-fire if one were negotiated, but a cease-fire would buy the people in Misurata some time, it would stop the attacks on the city for the time being, and it would allow more significant relief efforts to supply the besieged city.
It’s not as if the rebels have endless resources. Despite possessing access to oil production and export, they are having difficulty selling the oil, and they cannot gain ready access to Libya’s frozen assets. If the current conditions are wreaking havoc with the Libyan government’s finances, they are likewise exhausting the limited resources available to the rebels in the east:
The head of the opposition’s central bank last week warned that the eastern part of the country could run out of money within weeks.
There are other shortages in the east that are becoming very serious:
As well as cash, Benghazi is running out of staples such as pasta, cheese, tuna, milk and children’s food. A slump in the value of Libyan currency, coupled with a rise in insurance costs and shipping fees, has caused the price of some foods to double in recent weeks.
A short-term deal that halts the ongoing fighting and allows for humanitarian relief to reach the civilian population in rebel-controlled areas is one that makes sense for the rebels’ interests. By accepting a cease-fire now, they are not making any concessions about Libya’s political future of Gaddafi’s place in it. A cease-fire isn’t going to resolve the conflict, and it could end up making the civil war last longer than it otherwise would, but as far as the rebels are concerned that is better than a faster resolution in which they are on the losing side. The rebels’ new best friends in Paris and Rome should explain to them that a cease-fire helps their cause far more than it helps Gaddafi. If their leaders insist on a self-destructive all-or-nothing position, they will be proving that the Transitional National Council is as politically inept as its fighters have proved to be inept in war.