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A UN peacekeeping boat off of Naqoura. Photo: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP via Getty

Israel and Lebanon will resume U.S.-mediated talks on their maritime borders next Tuesday after a pause of more than four month, Israeli officials tell me

Why it matters: The talks are an attempt to resolve a dispute over natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The revenues at stake could reach the tens of billions of dollars.

The backstory: There have been major natural gas discoveries off the coasts of both countries over the last decade, and the border dispute has halted gas exploration in an area that has attracted the interest of U.S. energy companies.

  • The U.S.-brokered talks that began last October were the first direct political negotiations between Israeli and Lebanese officials in 30 years, but they stalled in December after four meetings.

Driving the news: A senior Israeli official told me the meeting on Tuesday would take place at the UN base in Naqoura, near the Israel-Lebanon border. U.S. mediator John Desrocher will attend.

Behind the scenes: In recent weeks, the Lebanese press reported that the government in Beirut — under pressure from Hezbollah — considered declaring a new border line with the UN, which is further to the south.

  • In retaliation, Israel announced it would also declare a new border line further to the north. Those tit-for-tat moves would have broadened the border dispute.
  • Two weeks ago, undersecretary of state for political affairs David Hale visited Beirut and raised the issue with officials including Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Before and after his trip, Hale also spoke with Israeli officials.
  • After the visit, Hale and Desrocher convinced both parties to abandon their new border claims and return to the negotiations table, an Israeli official tells me.

What they're saying: ‘The Lebanese climbed down from their tree and there are reasonable conditions for renewed talks. We want to reach a compromise and put this issue behind us," an Israeli official told me.

  • The State Department declined to comment.

Go deeper

Apr 28, 2021 - World

U.S. and Israel seek to "fence off" Iran deal dispute from other issues

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty

Israel and the U.S. want to fence their disagreements over the 2015 nuclear deal off from cooperation on other Iran-related issues, a senior Israeli official told me following talks on Tuesday in Washington between White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat.

Why it matters: The Israelis see a U.S. return to the deal as a matter of when and not if, Israeli officials say. So while Ben Shabbat arrived in Washington with a prepared message on Iran — stating Israel's objections to the deal and stressing Israel's freedom of operation against Iran — he was keen to move the discussion onto other issues.

Apr 28, 2021 - World

Palestinian president Abbas expected to delay elections, blame Israel

Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Antoine Gyori/Corbis via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce on Thursday that he is postponing the May 22 parliamentary elections, citing alleged Israeli obstruction, Palestinian and Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Abbas' primary motivation for the last-minute delay is that a split in his Fatah party has opened the door for a potential Hamas victory.

Apr 28, 2021 - World

Despite optimistic statements, Iran nuclear talks proving difficult

Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Presidency of Iran/Anadolu Agency via Getty

While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and negotiators from the EU and Russia have all heralded significant progress in the Vienna nuclear talks, there are still big gaps between the U.S. and Iranian positions, three U.S. and Israeli sources briefed on the talks tell me.

The state of play: The public statements coming from Vienna as talks resumed on Tuesday gave the impression that the sides were on track for a deal and the challenge now was to expedite the process. But inside the negotiating rooms, the sources say, the atmosphere has been less positive and far more challenging.