Will rekindled negotiations between Israel and Lebanon weaken Hezbollah?
The talks between the two countries, which have no diplomatic ties and are technically in a state of ongoing war, will be mediated by the US and hosted by the United Nations.
By JPOST EDITORIALPublished: OCTOBER 4, 2020 20:26Advertisement
Without much fanfare, the Middle East registered another recent breakthrough following the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. For the first time in 30 years, Israel and Lebanon have agreed to begin negotiations to end the long-running dispute over their maritime borders. Officials from both countries and the US made the announcement of the upcoming talks last week. Negotiations are expected to start around October 12.The talks between the two countries, which have no diplomatic ties and are technically in a state of ongoing war, will be mediated by the US and hosted by the United Nations.“The United States looks forward to commencement of the maritime boundary discussions soon, to be held in Naqoura, Lebanon, under the UN flag and hosted by the staff from the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL),” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.Both Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz thanked the US for facilitating the breakthrough allowing the discussions.“We look forward to the opening of direct negotiations in the near future,” said Steinitz, who will represent Israel at the talks and deserves a lot of the praise for helping create this important development. “Our objective is to end the dispute over the economic maritime demarcation of the waters between Israel and Lebanon in order to help develop natural resources for the benefit of all peoples in the region.”Pompeo credited US Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker for their help during some three years of mediation.Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-affiliated Amal movement and is in charge of the border portfolio, was more guarded in his announcement of the talks, but nonetheless seemed committed to the framework of the discussions.The significance of this breakthrough should not be belittled. Many officials and commentators have noted that the Lebanese agreement to the talks comes amid a severe economic crisis due to sanctions on the country, which is virtually controlled by Hezbollah, a Shi’ite terrorist organization with ties to Iran. It also follows, of course, the devastating explosions at the Port of Beirut in August in which hundreds lost their lives, thousands were injured, and some quarter of a million people were made homeless. The explosions, like many other Lebanese woes, were also related to Hezbollah’s corruption and hold over the country.The talks are a step in the right direction with important ramifications. While they are far from the normalization of ties, the talks are a recognition that the two countries do not have to exist in a state of war. There is an acknowledgment of rights and that itself is important.The negotiations relate to an area in the Eastern Mediterranean, known as Block 9, where Israel is developing its natural gas resources. The disputed area is not large, Steinitz reportedly said, and noted that the Lebanese cannot develop their potential gas fields before the dispute it solved.The end of the maritime dispute is not yet in sight, nor is it clear that this will lead to talks about disputed points on the land border between the two countries, but the fact that negotiations are taking place should be a cause for celebration. In the years before the First Lebanon War of 1982, Israel and Lebanon maintained functional if unofficial relations through UN facilitation, and even shared the so-called Good Fence at Metulla that saw a daily flow of Lebanese workers employed in Israel and the transfer of agricultural produce.In his announcement of the talks, Pompeo tweeted: “This offers the potential for greater stability, security, and prosperity for citizens in both nations.” He is right.This could potentially weaken Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon and grant the country an economic break its citizens desperately need. And although Israel cannot afford to drop its guard, successful negotiations would reduce the threat of war triggered by Hezbollah – a war that neither Israel nor the Lebanese citizens being held hostage by the terrorist organization want. Solving the dispute through negotiation creates calmer waters and calmer times for all.