A White House official said Wednesday that finding a solution to the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel is a top priority for the Biden administration.
“Resolving the maritime boundary dispute is a key priority for the Biden administration. We firmly believe a deal has the potential to promote lasting stability and economic prosperity for both countries,” the Biden administration official told Al Arabiya.
Technically at war since 1948, Lebanon and Israel are at odds over around 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, which is believed to contain offshore gas reserves.
The United States has been trying to mediate a deal between the two countries for years, and US President Joe Biden tapped Amos Hochstein to take on the role after he was elected.
During a call with Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden brought up the issue as well.
“The President also emphasized the importance of concluding the maritime boundary negotiations between Israel and Lebanon in the coming weeks,” according to a readout of his call with Yair Lapid.
Hochstein, a special presidential coordinator, has made multiple trips to Beirut and Tel Aviv in recent months, trying to strike a deal. But in recent weeks, the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group has threatened war against Israel if Lebanon is not granted its demands.
Hezbollah said there would be a deadline for a deal to be reached.
“While Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein has not visited Lebanon or Israel in recent weeks, he continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close,” the White House official told Al Arabiya. “We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and believe a lasting compromise is possible,” the official added, welcoming the “consultative spirit” of both parties to resolve the issue.
Lebanese and Israeli media outlets have had varying accounts of where the talks stand. This week, Israeli reporting suggested that Hochstein would relay a proposal to Beirut, which could see Lebanon take the so-called Qana gasfield while Israel would retain its exploring rights in the Karish gasfield.
However, Hezbollah-affiliated outlets said no such deal had been offered and reported that Lebanese officials were waiting for Hochstein to return to Beirut.
“Shuttle diplomacy is simply one component of the rigorous work the US team is undertaking to resolve this dispute,” the White House official said.
According to the official, Hochstein is in communication daily with Israeli and Lebanese officials—including Lebanon’s Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab.
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