Lebanon presents US Energy Envoy with position on maritime dispute

Lebanon presents US Energy Envoy with position on maritime dispute
The meeting with the US Mediator comes after escalating rhetoric between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime issue.
3 min read
Jordan - Amman
14 June, 2022
Lebanon's president requested that the US mediator take Lebanon's new proposal to Israel 'within the next few days'. [Getty]

Lebanon's president submitted the country's latest proposal to US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein on Tuesday in an attempt to solve the decades-long maritime dispute with Israel.

President Michel Aoun's press office said that the country's offer was in response to Hochstein's proposed solution made during his last visit in February. 

Though Lebanese officials did not specify what exactly Lebanon's proposal entailed, they requested it be relayed to Israel in the coming days. 

Hochstein said that he would carry the offer to Israel in the keeping of the indirect, shuttle diplomacy that has characterized the maritime negotiations thus far.

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The US mediator also met with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the caretaker Foreign Minister, the speaker of the house and the head of Lebanon's army. 

Beirut requested Hochstein come to Lebanon for discussions last week, after Israel sent an exploratory vessel to the Karish gas field. Lebanon claims the gas reservoir lies within disputed territory, while Israel maintains it is within its exclusive economic zone. 

Lebanon and Israel have a disputed southern maritime border, and have engaged in on-again-off-again negotiations for over a decade in an attempt to demarcate the area.

Negotiations are complicated by the suspected presence of vast amounts of offshore gas resources in the disputed areas. The two countries are also technically at war, preventing direct dialogue between the two and necessitating American mediation.

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The Iran-backed militia and political party Hezbollah said on 6 June that it would support the Lebanese state in its position, but would be ready to take action, "including force" to defend the country's resources. 

In turn, Israel said it would deploy naval assets and the Iron Dome missile defense system to defend Karish. On Sunday, Israel's head of army said a coming war with Lebanon would be "unprecedented".

On Monday, Lebanon's Oil and Gas Initiative issued a statement "demanding the adoption of line 29 rather than 23." 

The body also warned that "Lebanon will lose the opportunity to reach a just solution in accordance with international law.

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In previous negotiations, Lebanon has claimed that it's maritime border ends at "line 23," a far less expansive area than line 29. However in 2020, president Aoun announced that Lebanon's new starting position in the negotiations was line 29.

Both the Israelis and the Americans have said line 29 is a non-starter. Lebanese officials have indicated in private that this new maximal claim is meant more for public consumption than as a final negotiating point. 

Reuters reported on Monday that in a private briefing, Aoun said that Line 29 would not be possible in reality. 

On Thursday, Lebanon's caretaker government will announce the results of a round of bidding for a tender to develop a gas block off its coast.

Previously, Total won the tender to develop the offshore gas block, but its exploratory mission in 2018 found no commercially viable gas in the area.