U.S. resumes mediation efforts in Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute
The U.S. has resumed its mediation efforts in the maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon.
Why it matters: An agreement over a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean Sea could allow Lebanon to begin natural gas exploration, which may boost its imperiled economy.
Catch up fast: Lebanon and Israel each claim a potentially gas-rich, 330-square-mile area off their borders in the Mediterranean Sea.
- The latest round of U.S.-mediated talks began last year, but stalled due to the pandemic and the political crisis in Lebanon.
- State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein, who is leading the mediation efforts, had last visited the two countries in November.
Driving the news: Hochstein in Jerusalem on Sunday met with Israeli Minister of Energy Karine Elharrar, who told the U.S. envoy that Israel wants a deal and is willing to consider “creative solutions” as long as its security and economic interests are maintained, a senior Israeli official told me.
- The official declined to give any details about Hochstein’s proposal, but stressed the U.S. envoy sees an opportunity to get a deal and wants to try to reach one as quickly as possible.
- A State Department spokesperson said a decision on the maritime boundary is one for Israel and Lebanon to make.
- "America stands ready to facilitate negotiations, and we strongly support efforts to reach a mutually beneficial agreement," the spokesperson added.
What to watch: Hochstein is expected to visit Beirut next week, according to Lebanese media.
- The Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Tuesday that the Lebanese team made it clear the broad-demands position it presented during direct talks in May was only a negotiation tactic and it did not represent Lebanon's real demands.
- Lebanon is ready to go back to its original position, which includes narrower demands.
- Lebanese presidential adviser Elias Bou Saab told the newspaper that President Michel Aoun signaled that “time is not on our side and it is in our interest not to postpone the issue and take a national decision on this issue."
Between the lines: Hochstein told the parties in November that if they can’t come to an agreement before Lebanon's March 2022 parliamentary elections, he would end the mediation efforts.
- The elections have since been postponed to May.
- Israeli officials told me the fact that Hochstein came to the region at a time when he is also involved in the Ukraine crisis shows he thinks there is a potential to get a deal.