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Steinitz asks Lebanese president for direct maritime border talks

As negotiations hit impasse, energy minister suggests meeting Michel Aoun in Europe to break deadlock following Twitter tiff

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s energy minister on Monday appealed to Lebanon’s president for direct high-level negotiations, as talks between representatives from the two countries on the maritime border appeared to reach a stalemate.

The countries, which remain technically at war, opened negotiations on the border dispute under US and UN auspices last month to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration. Israel has since accused Lebanon of changing its position in talks on their maritime border and warned it could lead to a “dead end” that would be damaging for the whole region.

Tweeting in Arabic, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz invited Lebanese President Michael Aoun to meet in Europe to resolve the issue. The message came after the two exchanged barbs on Twitter over the talks.

“I am pleased to inform you that I have enjoyed the dialogue that has been taking place between us in recent days on Twitter about the maritime border negotiations. But unfortunately, it seems that you do not know all the facts about this matter, because the Lebanese side has changed its positions on the maritime borders many times during the last 15 years,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I am of the belief that if we were able to meet face to face in one of the European countries in order to conduct open or secret negotiations, we would have a good opportunity to resolve our differences over the maritime borders once and for all. In doing so, we will contribute to strengthening the economic future and well-being of the two peoples,” he added.

There was no immediate response from Aoun.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Steinitz on Thursday said the Lebanese negotiators have repeatedly changed their position.

“Lebanon has changed its stance on its maritime border with Israel seven times,” he tweeted.

“Its current position contradicts not only its previous one, but also Lebanon’s stance on its maritime border with Syria, which takes into account Lebanese islands close to the border,” Steinitz said.

Earlier on Thursday, Aoun had set out his country’s position on the maritime border, which he said should be “based on the line that departs on land from the point of Ras Naqoura.”

The demarcation should be “according to the general principle known as the median line, without taking into account any impact of the occupied Palestinian coastal islands,” Aoun tweeted, referring to the Israeli coastline.

Lebanese Communist Party supporters burn Israeli flags at a rally to protest ongoing maritime talks with Israel, at the Lebanese southernmost border area of Naqura, on November 11, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Israel and Lebanon have been negotiating based on a map registered with the United Nations in 2011, which shows an 860-square-kilometer (330-square-mile) patch of sea as being disputed.

But Lebanon considers that map to have been based on wrong estimates.

Aoun’s tweet confirmed that Lebanon is now demanding an additional 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) of sea further south, which includes part of Israel’s Karish gas field, said Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan.

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