Between Israel and Lebanon, negotiations in troubled waters

A convoy of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, in Naqoura, on the border with Israel, on October 2.

Between Israelis and Lebanese, the lure of gas is stronger than the old animosities. The two neighbors, between whom blood has flowed a lot and who are technically still at war, began talks on Wednesday October 14 on their maritime border.

These bilateral negotiations, a first between the two countries in nearly forty years, aim to draw the dividing line of their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the space of 200 nautical miles from the coasts where the States are sovereign in matters exploitation of resources. An official demarcation agreement could unblock the exploration of these waters, which are considered to be very rich in gas.

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The two delegations, made up of soldiers and specialists in energy issues, meet in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon, at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in the presence of the American David Schenker, Deputy Secretary of State for the Middle East. The negotiation process is placed under the auspices of the United Nations, with the United States playing the role of mediator. The stakes are particularly important for Lebanon, a bankrupt country threatened with dislocation, whose government has resigned for two months.

The delimitation of EEZs, made urgent by the discovery of numerous gas fields at the end of the 2000s in the eastern Mediterranean, comes up against a maritime area of ​​860 km2, which each of the two parties claims. In 2011, US diplomat Frederic Hof proposed a border line, allocating around 60% of the disputed area to Lebanon and 40% to Israel. But this offer has always come up against an end of inadmissibility from Beirut, which considers itself sovereign over the entire 860 km2.


Hezbollah, born in the struggle against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon between 1982 and 2000, hardened in the 2006 war against the Israeli army, has long been at the forefront of this refusal. The pro-Iranian Shiite movement, classified as “terrorist” by Washington, believed that the opening of negotiations with its sworn enemy would amount to recognition of it, an impassable red line.

These preventions are now obsolete. If we put aside the monthly contacts between officers from both sides, arranged by UNIFIL, this is the first time that representatives of Israel and Lebanon have come face to face since 1983. That year, in In the midst of civil war, Lebanese President Amine Gemayel had concluded a framework agreement with the Hebrew state, opening the way to a possible peace treaty, which had been revoked the following year by Parliament.

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