In what has been a historic year for Israel following the normalization of relations with Bahrain and the UAE, the Israeli Government is now looking to end its long dispute with Lebanon over its maritime border.
Negotiations Over the Maritime Border
US officials mediated in the negotiations, which took place at the base of a UN peacekeeping force in the Lebanese town of Naqoura.
However, both sides have insisted that they have not normalized any ties.
Despite this, the most positive outcome from a potential agreement between Jerusalem and Beirut would be for both sides to be able to exploit potentially lucrative natural gas fields under the Mediterranean Sea.
The US under the leadership of President Donald Trump has been instrumental in ensuring that these talks happened on Wednesday. Since the US President was elected almost four years ago, the US has been mediating discussions between Lebanese and Israeli officials.
These Talks are a Foreign Policy Win for Donald Trump
The first round of talks were attended by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker and the US ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher.
The negotiations lasted for only an hour, but both governments agreed to continue their discussions on October 28, which shows that the US can still have a positive impact on Middle Eastern politics.
The so-called Blue Line boundary was drawn up by the UN after Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending 22 years of occupation.
But following the month-long war that killed 1,190 Lebanese citizens and 163 Israelis in 2006, the ceasefire ended.
Both Lebanon and Israel have technically been at war since the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948-49, but it appears unlikely that Lebanon will be unable to maintain its hostile stance toward Israel as the economic impact of the coronavirus and political turmoil continue to paralyze the entire nation. There are many benefits in store for both Israel and Lebanon if they can end their maritime border dispute on October 28.
Both Netanyahu and Diab Would Benefit Politically From Peace
Even though the timings of the talks are no coincidence as Trump hopes to use them to show how competent he is at handling US foreign policy, such a deal would also benefit both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lebanon’s current Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Netanyahu is facing pressure at home due to his handling of the coronavirus and a forthcoming corruption trial. There is also the possibility that Israel may face a fresh set of elections in the near future, which means that the Israeli Prime Minister needs to convince his electorate beforehand that he is competent at handling foreign relations.
Diab also faces domestic and international pressure to reform Lebanon’s constitution following the Beirut explosion. He is also facing a prolonged economic crisis and being able to access billions of dollars’ worth of natural resources would be a significant boost to both the Israeli and Lebanese economies. According to Israel’s Energy Ministry, Lebanon could extract gas worth up to $6 billion annually from the disputed maritime area.
These Talks Could Help Israel and Lebanon Resolve Other Disputes
Wednesday’s talks failed to address the main bones of contention between Israel and Lebanon – the Shebaa Farms dispute, Hezbollah’s missile stockpile, and Israeli accusations that Hezbollah has violated UN Security Council resolutions by building covert weapons depots and military positions in southern Lebanon. But Shimrit Meir, an Israeli columnist and expert on Arab affairs, told Foreign Policy that the moment nations are tied together can be a de-escalating factor. This means that there could be progress on these issues in the future.
Most importantly, the strengthening of economic ties between Israel and Lebanon will be an important first step to help end a conflict between two countries that has lasted for over 70 years, and this could result in long-term peace in the Middle East.
The first round of US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon were truly historic in nature. Let us hope that they lead to further progress on October 28.