US envoy meets Israeli energy minister over Lebanon maritime dispute

Amos Hochstein to also confer with Lebanese officials in Beirut after both countries announced last week they are willing to resume stalled talks

An Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel's coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel's coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein met on Sunday with Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar amid ongoing American efforts to mediate a maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon.

Hochstein was also set to travel to Beirut and meet with Lebanese officials on the matter.

His visit comes after both Israel and Lebanon announced last week their intentions to resume talks over an area of about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea that both countries claim as being within their exclusive economic zones.

The two countries started indirect negotiations through a US mediator in 2020 at a UN peacekeeping base in Lebanon’s Naqoura, but the talks have stalled several times. The last round of talks on the matter was held last May.

Lebanon has sunk deep into an economic and financial crisis that started in late 2019 — a culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class.

The small Mediterranean country is eager to resolve its border dispute with Israel, paving the way for potential lucrative oil and gas deals.

In November, the Axios news site reported that Hochstein informed Israel and Lebanon that if they could not agree to a compromise, he would end his involvement in the talks.

He suggested to top Israeli officials during a visit to Israel that they need to get a deal done before the March 2022 parliamentary election in Lebanon, the report quoted Israeli officials as saying.

Hochstein was also in Beirut a month earlier as he continued his efforts to restart the stalled talks.

The Israel-born envoy also told officials that he was not planning to resume the joint talks held at a UN base on the border. Instead, he would meet with each side independently and then offer a bridging proposal.

“Hochstein told us he is not going to present a proposal that both sides like, but the opposite — that both won’t like. But if three to four months from now he sees the parties are not willing to take the deal, he would drop the whole thing and won’t deal with this anymore,” a senior Israeli official told Axios.

Hochstein was looking to get both sides to make serious compromises, officials said, noting that both countries wanted to resolve the dispute despite tensions between them.

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