by: Ilse Strauss
Thursday, 15 October 2020 | In yet another harbinger of frosty ties in the Middle East thawing, delegations from Israel and Lebanon—two nations technically at war with each other—yesterday sat down for the first border negotiations in 30 years.
Hailed as a “historic” feat with the potential to add a measure of prosperity and stability to the volatile Middle East, the talks were aimed at settling a decades-old maritime border dispute over the precise demarcation of the two countries’ territorial waters in the natural gas-rich Mediterranean Sea.
The disputed waters in question comprise 330 square miles (854 square kilometers) in the Mediterranean that both Jerusalem and Beirut claim as their own. Moreover, both Israel and Lebanon aim to include the territory in efforts to exploit offshore natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean, setting the two countries—and the rest of the region—on a collision course.
Yesterday’s one-and-a-half-hour meeting was the fruit of three years of US diplomats working to calm the waters and kick-start negotiations. Their efforts paid off. The two frosty neighbors finally met in a large tent at the United Nations Interim Force headquarters in Naqoura, some 656 feet (200 meters) north of the Israel–Lebanon border.
It remains unclear whether the negotiations made any progress.
A joint statement issued by the US and the UN hailed the talks as “productive,” with the next round scheduled for October 28.
However, according to the Jerusalem Post, the negotiations lacked neighborly cordiality, with the Lebanese representatives refusing to speak directly to their Israeli counterparts. In fact, a statement issued by the Lebanese delegation chief Bassam Yassin failed to mention Israel by name and described the talks as “indirect” and “technical.”
Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah’s television channel, Al-Manar, expounded on the mechanics, highlighting that the Lebanese translator would address the UN and American delegation, who would then pass the message to the Israelis.
Israel seemed unfazed by the cold shoulder. Ahead of the meeting, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz cautioned that expectations “need to be realistic.”
“We’re not talking about peace talks or negotiations over normalization,” Steinitz explained, “but rather about the attempt to solve a technical-economic problem that for a decade has been preventing us from developing natural resources in the sea for the benefit of the people of the region.”
Expecting Beirut to morph from bitter enemy to joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in finally clasping Jerusalem’s outstretched hand of peace is indeed farfetched. However, this is the first time in decades that Israeli and Lebanese officials met together under one roof to pursue a common goal. It’s not ideal. Not even close. But it’s something.
Posted on October 15, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, October 15, 2020)
Photo Credit: WKing/bridgesforpeace.com
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