Can negotiations end the Libya conflict?

With Qaddafi's forces unable to take Benghazi and the rebels stymied in moving westward, a deal between the two sides may be the only path forward.

REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Rebels retreat after forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi attacked them near Brega in eastern Libya,

How does Libya end?

The air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi's forces -- which halted their eastward advance and allowed the rebels to retake coastal towns in eastern Libya -- seems calculated not to go too far. Pro-Qaddafi forces have not, for instance, been heavily hit in the Sitre region in the center of the country, even they are using tanks and artillery against the rebels.

That has stymied the rebels' westward movement and raised questions about whether the ragtag force could take the Libyan capital without a massive bombing campaign.

There is a kind of logic to the idea of a temporary east-west division of the country. The United States and Europe don't want an outright rebel victory to result in score-settling in Tripoli any more than they wanted to watch Qaddafi conduct a massacre in Benghazi. If Qaddafi and his family can be persuaded to go into exile, the way could open for negotiations among Libyan tribes, whose members live in both the east and west.

Too elegant a plan to be carried out by air power? Perhaps. But with President Obama limiting the military campaign and saying Qaddafi is not the target, negotiated settlement would be the only alternative.

Note to readers: If you would like to see an early version of this column, plus our selection of the most important stories of the day, click here to subscribe to the Monitor's Daily News Briefing.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.