image Photo: Reuters

Israel-Lebanon border talks mired down

Negotiations between representatives of Israel and Lebanon on maritime demarcation in the Mediterranean Sea have been seemingly challenged by emerging disagreement.

Delegations from the long-time foes have convened several times at a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeper’s base in southern Lebanon, since talks mediated by the United States began last month toward reaching agreement on the border dispute that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.

According to a source familiar with the talks who spoke to TV7 on condition of anonymity, the Lebanese representatives have put forward new demands, insisting that the maritime boundary should be demarcated further south from the original position Beirut submitted to the United Nations about a decade ago.

In the first public confirmation of a stance sources say increases his country’s share of the contested waters, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun issued a statement instructing his team to start from the land point of Ras Naqoura as defined under a 1923 agreement. It would also extend seaward in a trajectory that a security source said enlarges the entire disputed area from about 860 sq km to 2,300.

This would exclude the 3 small Israeli Shahaf, Nahlieli and T’chelet islands located in the Eastern Mediterranean offshore from Rosh HaNikra, in what is essentially patterned on the similar position Turkey has taken against Greece in the Aegean Sea.

Jerusalem maintains that the 3 islands must be regarded as Israeli territory under international law and the laws of the Sea. Beirut insists they are exclusionary based on low landmass, as well as the uninhabited status imposed by Israel after they were designated as natural reserves for the preservation of rare life forms.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who oversees the maritime negotiations, said Lebanon had now changed its position 7 times in contradiction of its own previous assertions.

“Whoever wants prosperity in our region and seeks to safely develop natural resources must adhere to the principle of stability and settle the dispute along the lines that were submitted by Israel and Lebanon at the United Nations,” said Steinitz.

The Israeli Energy Minister went on to state that any deviation would ultimately lead to a “dead end.”

Aoun dismissed Steinitz’ claims as “unfounded” and insisted Lebanon’s position remains firm.

An investigation of both claims by TV7 revealed that Lebanon has indeed presented 7 separate demarcation proposals since 2007. They include 4 submissions to Israel and other actors, and 3 to the UN.