Negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their disputed maritime border will resume next week, Lebanese newspaper "Al Akhbar" reports. According to the report, US representatives including US Ambassador in Lebanon Dorothy Shea have told Lebanon's President Michel Aoun that Israel agrees to return to the talks next Tuesday. Aoun is scheduled to meet with the senior military figures who were conducting the talks, which were broken off last fall because of opposition from Hezbollah.
Aoun is considering, according to the report, transferring the management of the talks to a new delegation, which would include professionals in the maritime field as well as military personnel and politicians. Hezbollah is opposed to such a change so as not to give legitimization to what might be perceived as direct talks with Israel.
A US diplomatic source told "Globes" this week that according to their estimates, despite Hezbollah's opposition, the talks could be renewed with international brokerage on the disputed economic waters between Israel and Lebanon. The source said that European countries including France have been putting pressure on Lebanon to renew the talks as one of the conditions for providing an economic assistance package to the country, which is mired in a dire economic crisis and is close to monetary collapse. The US diplomat said that Israel had expressed readiness to renew the negotiations after Lebanese President Aoun had refused to sign an order annexing extensive areas of the Mediterranean Sea, which ministers in his temporary government had declared.
Earlier this month, Lebanon's Minister of Public Works and Transport Michel Najjar said that the country was issuing an order to annex 1,430 square kilometers of economic waters in the Mediterranean. Within the ostensibly annexed area is Israel's Karish gas field.
At the time Israel's Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz said, It looks like Lebanon prefers to break up the talks instead of trying to reach consensual solutions. Unilateral Lebanese measures will, of course, be answered with parallel measures by Israel." He gave no further details.
Then the US entered the picture. US Under-Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale came to Beirut last week and among other people met with President Aoun. Hale stressed the need to resume the talks with the US as an intermediary and based on the dispute that had already been discussed. Hale rejected the Lebanese declaration of annexation.
President Aoun spoke about the justice of the Lebanese claim under international law but made it clear that his country would accept international mediation and the opinion of the international experts who will fix the border. He added that he was anyway unable to sign the annexation order which required full government agreement, implying that there were dissenting voices.
President Aoun told Lebanese newspaper "Nida al Watan" that it was important to continue the negotiations so that Israeli could be prevented from having an excuse to explore for gas in Lebanese waters.
Israel believes that the talks, which were broken off last November, will ultimately be resumed, because Lebanon is on the verge of bankruptcy and developing gas field, which among other things is being delayed because of this dispute, could help rescue the country's economy. In any event, work on the Karish gas field is not being halted.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 29, 2021
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