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Lebanon, Israel have ‘productive’ first talks on setting maritime border

With no relations between the two countries — in fact, they are technically at war — it is nothing short of historic that Lebanon and Israel have agreed to engage in talks over its maritime border, let alone that those opening talks were deemed “productive” by all parties.

The negotiations — which just began Wednesday — are being held under the direction of the United States and the United Nations who said in a joint statement that the delegates had “reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month.”

Neither Israel nor Lebanon are operating under the illusion that a border dispute resolution would lead to normalization or peace, following the historic agreements between Israel with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. 

In fact, Hezbollah and another Shiite party, Amal, issued a statement warning of just that.

“This harms Lebanon’s position and interests… and amounts to giving in to the Israeli logic that seeks some form of normalization,” they said.

A pro-Hezbollah newspaper, Al-Akhbar, called the talks “a moment of unprecedented political weakness for Lebanon,” arguing that Israel is the real “beneficiary.”

Lebanon was pushed to the negotiation table as it is experiencing an overall crisis stemming from years of economic corruption, compounded by the coronavirus and then an explosion at its port in August which destroyed an entire section of the city and killed nearly 200. Solving the border dispute would allow Lebanon to start drilling for oil.

The location in dispute covers a 330-square-mile area claimed by both Israel and Lebanon.

The talks are being held in Naqura, a town on Lebanon’s border with Israel, at a UN peacekeeping force base and will continue on Oct. 28.

Brigadier General Bassam Yassin, head of Lebanon’s delegation, said the opening round on Wednesday was a “first step in the thousand-mile march towards the demarcation.”

“We are looking to achieve a pace of negotiations that would allow us to conclude this dossier within reasonable time,” he said.

Israel’s six-member team was led by the director general of the Energy Ministry Udi Adiri.

“This is a limited effort to resolve a well-defined, limited problem,” said a senior source at Israel’s energy ministry. “We have no illusions. Our aim is not to create here some kind of normalization or peace process.”

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