The meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush in the Italian capital, Rome has spiraled into an internal political crisis within Libya. There is a tacit consensus among stakeholders to address this issue by making Mangoush a scapegoat for what they perceive as a betrayal.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah of the Libyan Government of National Unity has issued a directive to temporarily suspend her from her duties and initiate an investigation. There are also indications of her imminent removal from her position, and the situation appears to have reached a pivotal juncture.
Several questions emerge in the wake of these events: Is the crisis due to the meeting itself, its publication in the media, or perhaps the leaking of information from the Israeli side? Did Mangoush decide on her own to normalize relations with Israel, or did she seek prior approval from her president – who would then decide to suspend or dismiss her?
An Israeli official told Reuters that the meeting had been arranged “at the highest levels” within Libya, and many observers, including myself, are inclined to accept this account due to its inherent logic and alignment with the customary processes in political and diplomatic circles. This is particularly pertinent when addressing major decisions such as the normalization of relations.
While it is sound to acknowledge that the Israeli side’s disclosure of the meeting may have triggered the crisis, the subsequent escalation and its consequences, including the minister in question seeking refuge in Turkey, squarely place the responsibility on the shoulders of the prime minister of Libya. Instead of taking responsibility for his political position, he has acted in a manner that appears baffling – in a situation where the scope of responsibility is understood by all without dispute.
This incident has starkly highlighted the disastrous absence of a unified Libyan state and the confusion of decision-making centers, coupled with the political maneuvering and exploitation that accompany such a power struggle. What was initially a meeting has evolved into an internal political crisis and an opportunity to criticize the interim government, underscoring the acute internal division in Libya.
There is no doubt that establishing relations with Israel, or others, should be based on the interests of the countries and their people – and not by participating in social media productions and messages, not to mention the political and ideological outbidding, still present in our Arab world, with people adopting such beliefs as the basis for their public lives.
In my assessment, Dbeibah committed two errors. The first was when he acquiesced, even if tacitly, to a move for which he was unprepared to bear the political repercussions, contenting himself with any favorable outcomes stemming from his decisions, policies, and meetings.
Secondly, he committed another error by taking the initiative to suspend Mangoush and subsequently announcing her dismissal from her position while on a visit to the Palestinian representation office in Libya. This was done without providing any clarification as to how his foreign minister could engage in such a high-level meeting with her Israeli counterpart, with the knowledge of the Italian foreign minister – without informing her own prime minister.Politics is commonly recognized as the art of the possible, and the process of normalizing relations between Israel and Libya might indeed require additional time.
However, it is undeniable that the methods, tools, and slogans of the 1950s are ill-suited for governing in the present and the future. Numerous changes have reshaped the landscape of international relations and the dynamics of Arab-Israeli relations. The establishment of official relations between Israel and many countries in the region stands as an undeniable reality.
Every country has its unique considerations when it comes to deciding whether to normalize relations with Israel. It has the legitimate right to define its stance, political direction, and the timing of any sovereign decision it chooses to make. What remains unequivocal in this context is that the Palestinian issue can no longer stand empty rhetoric and slogans, whether from its own people or from Arab politicians and pundits.
Facing reality, making realistic assessments, and taking pragmatic positions are pivotal in securing the realization of each country’s interests. Simultaneously, it contributes to fostering security and stability within the Middle East. This represents one of the pathways to seek resolutions and solutions to a just cause that has long suffered at the hands of opportunists and sensationalists who exploited it for personal gain, without achieving any positive outcomes for the Palestinian people and their rightful cause.
Dbeibah opted for the knee-jerk solution, which involved disavowing responsibility and laying blame on his foreign minister for the meeting. However, it appears he has overlooked the fact that this course of action is unlikely to persuade anyone, either domestically or internationally. As a politician leading a government in a country mired in crisis and desperately in need of leaders capable of finding solutions and assuming responsibilities, he should shoulder the burden.
Chaos in Libya's political ranks
Since the onset of the crisis, the various governments and councils scattered across Libya have failed to unify their stance. Instead, they hurriedly rejected the meeting between Mangoush and her Israeli counterpart, citing it as a betrayal and a breach of Libya’s principles.
From their perspective, this assessment may hold true, and it is not open to debate. However, isn’t achieving consensus for the security and stability of the Libyan people far more crucial than reaching unanimity in rejecting a diplomatic meeting that could potentially be managed through various other political channels? Shouldn’t the focus be on ending the internal strife and conflicts among the House of Representatives, presidential councils, and various partisan and tribal entities, rather than fixating on the question of normalizing relations with Israel?
The paramount concern should be the unification of Libya, both in the eastern and western regions, and the restoration of the state’s sovereignty under a single flag and banner. This objective, which aims to avert the looming specter of division and disintegration, deserves greater national attention and fervor than a diplomatic meeting, even if it involves an Israeli minister perceived as an adversary by a segment of the Libyan population. Ultimately, no one should vie for or reject these endeavors at the expense of Libya and its people.
The fact that Dbeibah allowed his foreign minister to flee to Turkey is compelling evidence that he was guided in his decision by self-interest and nothing else. If he genuinely believed that Mangoush had acted independently, he could have calmly and professionally relieved her of her duties, without resorting to the commotion and the undignified manner in which the situation was handled.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.