Lebanon weighs Israel border pitch

Lebanon’s top officials discussed a response to an Israeli proposal to solve a land dispute between the two states, with Beirut saying it wants any talks to include the maritime borders as well. “Israel wants to discuss only the land borders while Lebanon wants that, in addition to Block 9,” a political source told The Daily Star.

Block 9 is an energy block containing potential offshore oil and gas reserves, part of which has been claimed by Israel. Lebanon, which views Israel as an enemy, has an unresolved maritime border dispute with its neighbor over a triangular area of sea of around 860 square kilometers.

The zone extends along the edge of three of the five offshore energy blocks that Lebanon put to tender early last year. Block 9 is 1,700 square kilometers in size, of which 145-148 square kilometers are disputed.

Israel sent the proposal to Lebanon via UNIFIL and President Michel Aoun called for a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss a response. “Their [the Lebanese leaders’] message is clear that they will not accept negotiations without including Block 9,” the political source added.

General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim is leading on Lebanon’s position and the Lebanese Army officials that partake in the tripartite meetings between Lebanon and Israel headed by UNIFIL report back to him.

Few details of the meeting were revealed by attendees, however. Berri confirmed the talks touched on the border demarcations without going into further details.

Hariri spoke to reporters, saying, “We are trying to be positive in working toward making progress with regards to the land and maritime border demarcations, and this meeting took place at the request of President Aoun to unify our thoughts and a decision to this topic.”

The premier-designate told reporters there is “serious work being done by the Lebanese delegation.”

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source told The Daily Star a solution to the land border dispute “would open the door” to solving the controversy over Lebanese territories occupied by Israel. “The land dispute was almost completely solved and Lebanon would come out with more than Israel in the end, but Lebanon has rejected giving up any inch of what it says is theirs,” the source said.

This is not Israel’s first attempt at trying to resolve the border dispute.

In February of this year, a Lebanese diplomatic source told The Daily Star Tel Aviv wanted a solution to the maritime border to not scare away potential oil companies from its waters.

“They [Israel] want a solution and [Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David] Satterfield said a solution is in the interest of everyone because if one isn’t reached, the companies will not explore here or there,” the Lebanese source said after Satterfield met with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil at the time.

Satterfield went back and forth to Lebanon at least three times trying to help find a common ground as Israel upped its rhetoric against Lebanon.

Lebanon previously offered a counterproposal to a U.S. plan for the contested oil and gas block to be handled by an independent company and for profits to be shared.

This counterproposal included a “White Line,” similar to the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line that divides Lebanese and Israeli land territories.

A trilateral committee including Lebanese and Israeli experts on the topic was also proposed.

Berri previously suggested experts and topographers, including Americans, would be welcomed in this committee. The speaker first put forward the solution in 2015 and brought it up again during Satterfield’s shuttle meetings.

A source close to the talks said Israel and the U.S. did not want to bring the U.N. into the dispute.

An original proposal was presented to Lebanese leaders by Satterfield, and was based on the “Hoff Line.” In 2011, U.S. diplomat Frederick Hoff reportedly proposed for Lebanon to acquire 550 of the 860 disputed square kilometers that Lebanon insists is part of its maritime border, and abandon the remaining part to Israel.

A new envoy could step into Satterfield’s mediator role, as he edges closer to retirement.

Former Pentagon official David Schenker is set to be sworn in Thursday in front of Congress, the Central News Agency reported. It added Schenker will visit Lebanon after a new government is formed.

Source: Daily Star