After working ‘day and night,’ US set to resolve Lebanon-Israel border dispute

A senior State Department official said that the alternative to a deal is war. “No one wants that.”

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The Biden administration is on the brink of achieving a major diplomatic breakthrough, with Lebanon and Israel appearing closer than ever to resolving a decadeslong maritime border dispute.

“We are working day and night to get this done,” the lead US mediator, Amos Hochstein, told Al Arabiya English.

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Since being appointed by President Joe Biden to be the State Department’s energy envoy last summer, Hochstein has also led US-led efforts to get Lebanon and Israel to demarcate their maritime boundary.

“We are so close,” a senior State Department official told Al Arabiya English.

The White House, National Security Council, and State Department have repeatedly stated that resolving the issue was a key priority and could bring about increased stability and economic security in the region.

On Monday night, Hochstein presented Lebanon with a final draft agreement that reportedly includes revisions sought out by Beirut and proposes a compromise on the Israeli reservations.

A key sticking point had been Lebanon’s refusal to recognize buoys placed at sea by Israel years ago, suggesting that accepting this would impact the land border between the two countries, which a UN-demarcated Blue Line currently separates. Israeli officials have said that removing the line of buoys was not up for discussion, citing purported security issues.

Another issue was Lebanon’s refusal to share revenues from potential gas produced in the Qana gas field. The latter is reportedly open for discussion, according to a Lebanese official.

Sources familiar with the negotiations have said a deal is now imminent following Hochstein’s latest efforts.

The top negotiator for Lebanon, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab, told Reuters late Monday: “If everything goes well, Amos Hochstein’s efforts could imminently lead to a historic deal.”

However, time is a major factor, with the Lebanese president’s term ending at the end of this month and Israeli elections slated for November 1.

Political opponents of Yair Lapid’s government, specifically Benjamin Netanyahu, have criticized a potential maritime border deal as benefitting Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed militant group has threatened to attack Israel if it started exploration in the Karish gas rig before a deal was struck with Lebanon.

Another obstacle, assuming Lebanon accepts the final draft, could be in Israel. Israeli outlet Haaretz reported that a maritime border agreement would need to be submitted to the Knesset at least two weeks before government approval.

But at a time when Biden’s foreign policy in the Middle East appears to be less productive than previous administrations, this could mark a significant milestone in US diplomacy.

The failure to push the Lebanese-Israeli maritime demarcation over the finish line could prove catastrophic.

“The alternative is war,” the senior State Department official said. “No one wants that.”

Read more: Energean begins gas flow testing a Karish field in Israel

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