U.S. envoy sees some progress in Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute
State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating between Israel and Lebanon in their maritime border dispute, ended his visit to Beirut Tuesday with more room for diplomacy.
Why it matters: The U.S. has expressed deep concern that rising tensions between Lebanon and Israel over the maritime border dispute of a potentially gas-rich area in the Mediterranean Sea could lead to an escalation in the region.
- That dispute intensified in the last two weeks after a ship operated by gas exploration company Energean arrived to begin drilling in the Karish gas field, an area Israel says is within its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone.
Driving the news: Hochstein held meetings in Beirut on Monday and Tuesday with the Lebanese leadership and received its response to a proposal he gave both sides more than four months ago.
- Unlike in the past, the Lebanese response was unanimous and agreed upon by President Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.
- In recent weeks there was political pressure on the Lebanese government to widen its demand to include more area farther south, but the three leaders made it clear to Hochstein that Lebanon would stick to its original position regarding the maritime border, according to the Lebanese press.
Lebanon asked that Israel completely give up on the Qana gas field which is one of the main points of dispute.
- According to Hochstein’s original proposal, the Qana gas field is supposed to be within Lebanese territory with Israel getting a right for part of the potential revenue that might be generated.
- The Lebanese officials also demanded Israel halt drilling in the Karish gas field while talks take place.
What they're saying: In an interview with Alhurra Television Tuesday, Hochstein said the unified message from the Lebanese leadership and the Lebanese position will enable the negotiations to move forward.
- “I heard a clear understanding that the economic crisis in Lebanon that is closely tied with the energy crisis needs to be solved and resolving the maritime dispute is a critical step to resolving the economic crisis," he said.
What’s next: Hochstein is expected to relay to Israeli officials what he heard in Beirut.
- Israeli officials said there is no date set for a visit by Hochstein to Israel.
- Israeli officials said Lebanese officials appeared to return their original position, but it is too soon to know if there is real progress. They added that Israel won’t halt drilling in the Karish gas field.