African Union negotiators are currently meeting with rebel leaders in Benghazi to push their peace proposal, already agreed to by Gaddafi. The reported terms of the deal are an immediate ceasefire, including NATO, the delivery of aid, the protection of foreigners in Libya, and a national political dialogue. Not mentioned is the future status of Gaddafi and his family. Sources within the rebel movement have said that the presence of Gaddafi or his sons in a future regime is beyond their red lines, yet personality assessments of Gaddafi–and his aggressive responses to the uprising–suggest that he will never choose to leave power. Given that Gaddafi’s status was an essential cause of the revolts, any settlement will have to find a way to satisfy both sides. The AU’s negotiators know this, and are certainly proposing some sort of solution behind the scenes.
The first possible solution is that Gaddafi remains in the regime in a purely symbolic role, and is granted immunity and access to some of his old perks. The rebels have little reason to grant him more–to give him power would risk reprisal–and Gaddafi is unlikely to agree to less without imminent military defeat (unlikely) or the threat of a coup (a risk that could grow if the conflict drags on).
It is not likely that this is the AU’s offer. The conflict, while it has become something of a stalemate, has not been favoring the rebels of late, and things like the use of rocket pods from helicopters as artillery suggest increasing desperation and increasing aversion to direct contact with Gaddafi’s military. Gaddafi would thus not have agreed to it (and if he did, he will not keep the bargain).
The second possibility is that the national dialogue in the public proposal is the offer, and the political settlement will include some renegotiation of Gaddafi’s status in the regime or possibly a transfer to one of his sons. The rebels are unlikely to agree to this–they have seen Gaddafi renege on his promises many times before, and have no reason to believe that he will suddenly begin negotiating in good faith.
It is thus likely that this offer is a political maneuver by the AU. The AU has been a running project of Gaddafi’s ever since he abandoned pan-Arab ideology in favor of pan-African ideology, and many of the leaders of the proposal, like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, have been closely tied to Gaddafi. This had not been politically risky–Gaddafi’s foreign policy had moderated significantly from its old days of state-sponsored terror and weapons of mass destruction. However, Gaddafi’s open repression of the current uprising reminded the world that his internal policy had remained brutal. The AU and its members are thus trying to find a way to restore their reputations and gain a larger share of the new African diplomatic order, one where Libya’s role will be diminished regardless of the outcome of the war.
Even if we bracket the issue of Gaddafi’s status, neither side is likely to come to the table with a serious offer. Gaddafi is enjoying a military advantage, even under NATO strikes, and his forces have reduced the threat of airstrike through the use of technicals similar to those of the rebels (a tactic proven effective by the two recent accidental airstrikes on rebel forces). NATO’s willingness to intervene is clearly fading, and Gaddafi certainly knows this–to paraphrase a Taliban commander, NATO has the watches, and Gaddafi has the time.
A ceasefire would be a boon for the rebels–even a few days of peace could allow heavier oil exports, the relief of besieged cities and overwhelmed hospitals, and an increase in the organization and training of their fighters. However, it is not clear how capable they are of making peace with Gaddafi. Their forces are clearly in a state of extreme disorder (though they are improving), and the chain of command is not entirely clear. Add in the ideological differences certainly present within the movement, and one must wonder if there is even an authoritative group capable of negotiating with finality. This might be the root of the rebel demand that a peace deal include a withdrawal of Gaddafi’s forces from the cities–it is a clearly unacceptable demand that Gaddafi will never agree to, so the rebels are free to ignore their internal divisions over what Libya will ultimately look like.
Upshot: The AU’s peace deal is a face-saving maneuver that likely does not include any of the significant concessions that will be required before the two sides can put down their weapons.
Prediction: Difficult. It is not likely that the rebels will accept the deal, and if they do, both sides will have every intention of maneuvering around it. (While writing, it emerged that a Transitional National Council spokesman has called the proposal “outdated,” and reiterated their statement that deals that keep Gaddafi on board will be ignored).