Israeli flags flying near an excavation site by the Israeli army near the concrete barrier along the border with Lebanon. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
The first round of U.S.-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon over the two countries' long-standing maritime border dispute is expected in July, a senior Israeli official told me.
Why it matters: Israeli-Lebanese talks would be a dramatic diplomatic development and a significant step forward in a long-standing conflict that has stalled natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Solving the crisis could unlock potential natural gas reserves for both countries.
Behind the scenes: Earlier this week, U.S. envoy David Satterfield held talks with officials in Beirut and Jerusalem in an effort to close the final gaps and set a date for the first round of negotiations. Israeli officials told me Satterfield made substantial progress in his talks and managed to find solutions for many technical issues that had held up the launch of the negotiations.
- The Israeli official said the Lebanese wanted to initiate the talks without a firm timetable for getting a deal. Israel, on the other hand, wanted to set a six-month deadline.
- As a compromise, the talks will have no firm deadline, but the statement which the U.S. will release to announce the talks will say that the aspiration is to get a deal in six months, the Israeli official to me.
What's next: Satterfield is expected to return to Beirut on Monday or Tuesday to get the final green light from the Lebanese government. He will then return to Jerusalem for talks with the Israelis. The Israeli official told me he thinks the last gaps will be closed this week and a first round of U.S.-mediated Israeli Lebanese talks will be set for July.