The Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, confirmed on 1 October that Israel and Lebanon are to meet to discuss their longstanding dispute over their shared maritime border. Anonymous Israeli officials had announced the agreement on 26 September.
The talks, which will begin in the week of 12 October, will be mediated by the US and conducted at UNIFIL’s headquarters in Naqoura, Lebanon. Israel’s delegation will be led by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
With no diplomatic relations, the two nations remain technically at war, with each claiming exclusive economic rights to some 860 sq km of the Mediterranean. At stake are exploration and exploitation rights for several large gas fields recently identified. Lebanon is particularly set on exploiting the finds as a method of alleviating its dire economic crisis and to begin to make payments against its immense indebtedness. The nation began offshore drilling earlier this year and MON understands it is expected to begin drilling in the disputed area before the end of 2020.
US officials have been engaging in ‘shuttle diplomacy’ since 2010 in an attempt to bring negotiations about. Both the US and the UN have welcomed the agreement for indirect talks (meaning the parties will negotiate through intermediaries rather than communicating directly) and there are hopes that the initiative might be extended to included discussions regarding the ‘Blue Line’ disputed land border.
Although the Israeli government agreed early last year to talks over the maritime border, pressure from Hezbollah – which dominates Lebanese politics and which Israel considers to be a terrorist organisation – is reported to have caused Beirut to back away from the suggested parley.