Israeli and Lebanese officials will meet on Wednesday for the second round of rare talks aimed at settling a maritime border dispute between the countries, the Energy Ministry said Tuesday.
An Israeli delegation will travel to a UN peacekeeping force base in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura where negotiations will be mediated by US ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher, the ministry said in a statement.
The first round of talks was held on October 14. The US and UN said in a joint statement that the meeting was “productive.”
Israel and Lebanon, which are technically at war, are seeking to settle a long-standing dispute over the borders of their offshore exclusive economic zones, which are thought to contain large deposits of valuable natural gas.
“The purpose of the delegation in the meetings is to examine the possibility of reaching an agreement on the determination of the maritime border between the countries in a way that will enable the development of natural resources in the region,” the ministry said.
A third meeting is expected to take place on Thursday, the Energy Ministry said.
Similar to the first round of talks, Israel’s delegation will be led by Director-General of the Energy Ministry Udi Adiri, who will be accompanied by the energy minister’s chief of staff Mor Halutz, as well as Aviv Ayash, the minister’s international adviser. Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Azar, the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for the UN and International Organizations Alon Bar, and Brig. Gen. Oren Setter, head of the Israeli military’s Strategic Division, will also attend the talks.
They will be joined on Wednesday by Haim Srebro, an expert on international boundaries and the former head of Survey of Israel, the mapping department of the Housing Ministry.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the talks were an encouraging sign of Beirut being willing to play ball.
“I am hearing positive voices coming out of Lebanon, who are even talking about peace with Israel, who are working with us on things like determining maritime borders,” he said while touring a drill simulating a possible war with Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Gantz, also Israel’s alternate prime minister, did not specify which Lebanese comments he was referring to.
But they came a day after Claudine Aoun, daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, told Al Jadeed TV that peace with Israel would be conceivable if issues between the countries were resolved.
“We have the maritime border dispute, the issue of Palestinian refugees, and another topic which is more important which is the issue of natural resources: water, oil and natural gas which Lebanon is depending on to advance its economy,” she said.
When asked directly if she would object to a peace treaty with Israel, she responded: “why would I object?”
“Are we supposed to stay in a state of war?… I don’t have doctrinal differences with anyone… I have political differences.”
The previous maritime talks lasted for around one hour and came weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab states to establish official relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
In a joint statement, the US and the UN said the delegates had “reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month.”
The following day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope that the talks may eventually lead to a peace deal between the two countries.
During his speech to open a Knesset debate on Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates, signed in September, Netanyahu acknowledged that as long as the Hezbollah terror group “effectively controls Lebanon, there can be no real peace with this country.”
But he then segued specifically to the maritime talks, the first negotiations between the countries in 30 years, which he said carry “enormous potential and economic significance, both for them and for us.
A week earlier, Hezbollah said that the talks with Israel do not constitute normalization or peace talks with the Jewish state.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones.
Israel has already developed a natural gas industry elsewhere in its economic waters, and Lebanon hopes oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it overcome the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
Lebanon’s economic crisis is the result of decades of corruption and mismanagement, but it has been dramatically worsened by the coronavirus pandemic as well as a massive explosion in Beirut on August 4, which killed and wounded many and caused damage worth billions of dollars.