Lebanon and Israel Discuss Maritime Border Dispute

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

August 2, 2022

On Sunday, July 31, United States envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, in hopes of progressing the resolution of an ongoing maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel. The dispute in the Mediterranean escalated in June 2022 as Israel began operating a production vessel on the Karish offshore gas field, which Lebanon partially claims as its own. Beirut, in response, called for the reopening of Lebanese-Israeli negotiations with the United States as the mediator, thus laying the foundation for diplomatic cooperation.

Al-Monitor provided context on Lebanese-Israeli relations and contentions, specifically pertaining to maritime border negotiations: “Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border. They had resumed maritime border negotiations in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying. Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres, including part of the Karish field. Israel claims that the field lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations.”

On Monday, August 1, following a meeting with Lebanon’s top leaders, Hochstein expressed continued optimism that both Israel and Lebanon will make progress. Asharq Al-Awsat implored Hochstein’s comments and dove deeper into the meeting’s content. Hochstein is hopeful to press “efforts to clinch a rare agreement between the enemy states that should allow both to develop offshore resources…A senior Lebanese government source said Hochstein had passed on an Israeli proposal that provided Lebanon with ‘nothing south of Line 23’—a maritime line that was originally Lebanon’s demand during negotiations. Additionally, Israel would allow Lebanon to explore the entire Qana Prospect, an area with the potential to hold hydrocarbons which crosses beyond Line 23.”

Asharq Al-Awsat continues, highlighting the importance of compliance from all parties. Although Hochstein is determined to come back to the Levant region to make the final arrangement soon, he noted the realistic steps needed to create a successful reliant agreement: “Hochstein told local broadcaster LBCI he expected exploration would move forward in the area once the companies involved had the ‘legal and diplomatic certainty’ that would result from a deal.”

Jamie Prentis, a journalist for the National News, featured Lebanese President Michael Aoun’s comments before and after meeting with Hochstein. Prior to the meeting,Mr Aoun said Lebanon was seeking ‘a deal that preserves its rights and its wealth and that could provide, as soon as negotiations are over, an opportunity to revitalise the economy.’” 

Prentis continued the spotlight on Lebanese officials, specifically Lebanon’s Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab following the meeting. Saab expressed the success of the meeting with Hochstein. He stated that “‘the atmosphere was positive. Everyone came out of the meeting satisfied and, God willing, over the next few weeks we will begin to see results.’”

However, not all are as optimistic as Hochstein. Head of Israeli foreign and defense committee Ram Ben Barak stated on Monday, August 1, that there will be retaliation from Israel if Hezbollah attacks the Karish offshore field. Written in Naharnet, Barak “added that Hezbollah’s threats are not affecting the negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over their maritime border demarcation. Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had threatened attacks if Israel proceeds with gas exploration in the disputed area. ‘We’re paying no attention to Nasrallah’s threats and they’re not a factor in the negotiations,’ Barak told public broadcaster Kan radio. ‘But if Nasrallah dares to do anything to Israel’s gas rigs, Lebanon –- and Hezbollah—will pay dearly.’”

In addition to the US’s efforts to assist on a negotiation between Israel and Lebanon, Israeli media reported that there would be a French proposal to ease the tension. Najia Houssari, a journalist writing for Arab News, explained that “Israeli media reported that there would be a proposal for French Total to extract gas and oil ‘for the interest of Lebanon and Israel, to avoid any problems related to coordination and to ensure a fair share of the gains in the disputed areas.’ An Israeli official said the US envoy would present a new suggestion concerning the demarcation of maritime borders with Lebanon. On Sunday, according to a Reuters report, the Israeli official said: ‘Our new proposal would allow the Lebanese to develop the gas reserves in the disputed area while preserving Israel’s commercial rights.’”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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