Israel and Lebanon agreed to carry out talks on the maritime time boundary dispute in the Mediterranean Sea. The negotiations will be first on non-security issues, but officials do not expect them to lead to peace talks on the UAE and Bahrain’s path. Both of these states are technically at war and, therefore, share no formal diplomatic relations. The region was raised in importance with the finding of natural gas. The talks will be mediated by the US and held under the United Nations’ auspices. It has been made clear by either side; talks don’t mean normalization of relations.
The dispute is over 330 square miles of Mediterranean, which both of the said states claim to in their respective exclusive economic zones. After the discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, they are hoping to find the same in the disputed region. Hence, the gas reserves have raised the stakes of the disputed region.
The history of the relationship is marred with many conflicts over the border and Palestine issue. Israel invaded Lebanon twice. Israel has declared Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group and political party, as a terrorist. Since 2006, after the war with Hezbollah, the border is silent, but the bitterness remains. There is no clear land border between these two states but a cease-fire line – the so-called blue line.
Lebanon is pushed to table talks due to its punishing economic crisis. Its debt to- GDP ratio is 170, one of the highest globally, unemployment is rising, poverty is increasing exponentially and its currency has lost its value over a year. And the misery was compounded for Lebanon by a massive explosion in its capital, leaving it in ruins. In all this scenario, political leadership hopes that the gas will help them pay debts and assuage their economic woes.
Israel’s offshore energy discovery has raised its energy independence, and it has signed contracts with neighboring countries – Jordan and Egypt. This region will further add up to its energy reserves, consequently enhancing its energy self-sufficiency and trade.
The US will be mediating the talks between the two states. After several failed attempts by the US, Lebanon has accepted the US as a mediator for three years. Both states have frequently negotiated on security issues, but this will be the first time on any civil issue in the past 30 years. Hezbollah announced these talks are not stepped towards normalization of relations with the Jewish state. Given this situation, a swift breakthrough is not expected out of these talks, but Lebanon’s willingness to come to the negotiating table is a ray of hope.
The first indirect talks were held on 15 October 2020. In this meeting, the framework and schedule for further meetings were decided. It showed a ray of hope and commitment from both sides to scrap the matter as soon as possible. Economic matters of both states are at stake. It is more imperative for Lebanon, which claims to have nothing to lose if the economy collapses.
To conclude, it can be said that both states’ desire to solve the issue as quickly as possible shows the importance of region and eagerness of the disputing state to start exploration in the claimed region. The gas in this region is said to be the panacea of Lebanon’s economic problems while the source of energy independence for Israel. Moreover, if an agreement is reached, this might open the door of opportunities for the solution of security and land border issues as well. If successful, talks seem to have a huge possibility for security, stability, and prosperity for both nations’ people. Another way round, it will make the relationship further hostile. The current scenario favors the former view. The next round of negotiations will be held at the end of this month. The time will decide the outcome of the talks.