According to experts, the deal would be a long-term advantage for the ailing Lebanese economy. It would also strengthen the US-backed Eastern Mediterranean Energy Alliance, in which Israel, which has already exploited the gas fields in its offshore waters, is a major participant in.
The talks are not expected to turn into a normalization agreement – the kind that Israel reached with the UAE and Bahrain last month. But it represents another achievement of the Trump administration as it seeks to improve Israel’s position in the region – at the expense of the Palestinians. The US administration confirmed that the framework agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel is stalled due to a “ridiculous” point of contention.
This came according to the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, on Wednesday. A day after he spoke about “gradual progress”, in the indirect negotiations between the two sides.
David Schenker said Beirut is wasting “free money” from exploring for gas amid a stifling economic crisis. He refused to reveal the point of disagreement, but hinted he might do so at a later time.
The American official, who is participating in the negotiations, expressed his frustration at the fact that Beirut has shown no rush to find a way to start negotiations with Israel, while the talks are only now returning to the point they were last year.
The file of demarcating the borders between Israel and Lebanon is considered one of the top priorities of the US administration in the region, in the current period, in addition to increasing pressure on Hezbollah, and its latest manifestation was the addition of two Lebanese ministers to the blacklist on charges of supporting the pro-Iranian party.
$ 6 billion is the value of gas revenues that Lebanon can generate annually from the disputed area
The maritime border demarcation file is one of the thorny files that maintain the state of war between Lebanon and Israel, especially in blocks 4 and 9, which Beirut says are within its exclusive territorial waters.
“For some inexplicable reason, there was no sense of urgency there,” Schenker said in a video conference at the Brookings Institution. We are talking about free money for a country going through a financial crisis. ”
Israel and Lebanon have competing demands on three potential gas fields in the Mediterranean, which are believed to contain large quantities of gas. The United States is currently trying to broker a framework that would have the parties start negotiations over the management of development contracts.
And Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz previously said in an interview with Israeli public television, “These are not negotiations for peace and normalization. The talks focus strictly on delineating each country’s exclusive economic zone to allow the exploitation of natural resources at sea for the benefit of both peoples.
A senior official in the Israeli Ministry of Energy suggested that Lebanon could extract $ 6 billion of natural gas annually from the disputed territory, a thin marine area shaped like a pizza slice and point at the Israeli-Lebanese border. Without making an agreement, the disputed waters remain a point of angry discussion between the two sides and are prohibited for commercial developers.
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