Negotiations on Lebanese-Israeli border demarcations in final phase

Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas off the coast north of Beirut by the end of the year.

May 29, 2019 01:34
2 minute read.
Negotiations on Lebanese-Israeli border demarcations in final phase

A view of Israeli border town of Metulla, as seen from Kfar Kila, in south Lebanon December 4, 2018. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Negotiations on demarcating the Lebanese-Israeli land and maritime borders are in their final stages after weeks of mediation by Washington, Lebanese media reported on Tuesday.

According to a statement from the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil met with Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield, who has been shuttling between Beirut and Jerusalem holding discussions on the issue.

“No radical problems or obstacles are hindering the implementation of the Lebanese proposal; but the matter requires more round trips,” sources from Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry were quoted by LBC International news as saying following the meeting between the two.

“We started putting the final touches on the form of negotiations and the role of the concerned parties, including the United Nations, Lebanon and Israel, as well as the role of the United States,” they continued.

Last week, Lebanese officials said Satterfield had informed them that Israel agreed to the negotiations. Israel had not commented at the time.

But following a meeting with Satterfield on Monday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed the country’s openness to the US-mediated talks with Lebanon, saying “a round of Israeli-Lebanese talks mediated by the US, in an effort to set a maritime border for the benefit of both countries’ interests in the development of natural gas and oil reservoirs.”

In late April, Lebanon’s Speaker Nabih Berri said Beirut was prepared to demarcate its maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the UN and with the same mechanism used for the Blue Line.

“We are ready to draw Lebanon’s maritime borders and those of the Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] using the same procedure that was used to draw the Blue Line under the supervision of the United Nations,” Berri was quoted by NNA as saying.

The Blue Line currently separates Lebanon and Israel’s territory with more than 200 points. Thirteen of the points are disputed by the Lebanese government.

According to the report, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col told Berri that the mechanism used to draw the Blue Line could also be used to resolve the maritime border issue and enhance stability.

The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860, which extends along several blocks for exploratory offshore drilling Lebanon put for tender two years ago.

Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed maritime waters are in Lebanon’s EEZ and parts of Block 9 run through waters that Israel claims as its own EEZ.

Recently discovered oil and gas reserves off the shores of Lebanon and Israel are predicted to generate up to $600 billion over the next few decades, and in December 2017, Beirut signed contracts with three international companies to explore oil and gas in two of the blocks.

Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas off the coast north of Beirut by the end of the year and in the block near the area disputed with Israel next year.

Beirut, which is grappling with an economic crisis, is hoping to solve the demarcation dispute with Israel in order to accelerate the process to allow for companies to explore for oil and gas in the disputed area.

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