Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks to resume next month

Lebanon pushed for more territory in maritime border talks with Israel

An Israeli military observation tower overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, near Rosh Hanikra last week. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
An Israeli military observation tower overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, near Rosh Hanikra last week.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israel and Lebanon held "productive" talks over their disputed Mediterranean Sea border on Thursday and agreed to meet again next month, the United Nations and the United States said.
Lebanon pushed for more maritime territory than had previously been under negotiation with Israel, media based in Beirut reported on Wednesday, as the second round of talks began near the border between the countries.
The Lebanese negotiators sought more maritime territory than the 860-square-kilometer triangle that had been under dispute with Israel for more than a decade, and their new demands encroach into Israeli gas fields, Lebanon’s Daily Star and Al Jazeera English reported.
The disputed area starts from the countries’ border on the Mediterranean Sea, and is 5 to 6 km. wide on average. The area would be about 2% of Israel’s economic waters.
However, Lebanon reportedly seeks to reach further into what had been undisputed Israeli waters until this week.
The Energy Ministry did not comment on the reports.
Maritime border talks between Israel and Lebanon began with a short initial meeting two weeks ago at the United Nations Interim force in Lebanon headquarters in Naqoura, Lebanon, which is near Rosh Hanikra, and the second round was set to continue on Thursday in the same location.
US Ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher mediated between the sides.
The Israeli delegation was led by Energy Ministry director-general Udi Adiri, who was joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic adviser, Reuven Azar, Foreign Ministry International Law Department director Amit Heumann and others.
Like in the first meeting, no photos were released on Wednesday. Earlier this month, Lebanese media reported their side refused to take pictures with the Israeli delegation.
The negotiating teams in Naqoura were authorized to discuss only the technical matter of the border between the countries’ exclusive economic zones, and not normalization or peace.
As such, the Energy Ministry has taken the lead on resolving the dispute, and is approaching it as an economic issue.
The ministry has said that every year that has passed has meant a loss of billions of dollars for each side. Lebanon, however, has more to gain, since it imports billions of dollars of oil, diesel and liquid gas each year, while Israel no longer imports energy sources and uses its own natural gas, and even exports some.
At the start of talks, the Lebanese government’s statements about the meetings emphasized that they are “indirect” and “technical.”
Hezbollah TV channel Al-Manar said the Lebanese delegation did not speak to the Israelis. Its translator would talk to the UN and American delegation, which would then pass the messages on to the Israeli delegation, and vice versa.
The US has tried to bring Israel and Lebanon to the negotiating table for the past decade, and more actively in the past three years.
American and Lebanese officials have said land disputes between Jerusalem and Beirut will be handled in a different channel, but the Energy Ministry source said that there is no final agreement on that front yet. Israel wants to separate the two issues, to give the maritime border negotiations a chance to succeed.
Reuters contributed to this report.