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US mediator said to give Israel, Lebanon deadline to reach maritime agreement

Report says American envoy Amos Hochstein tells both sides to strike a deal by March 2022 or he will walk away, said planning to present a bridging proposal

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)

A US mediator has reportedly informed Israel and Lebanon that if they cannot agree to a compromise over a disputed maritime region, he will end his involvement in the talks.

US envoy Amos Hochstein, who visited Israel this week, suggested to top Israeli officials that they need to get the deal done before the March 2022 parliamentary election in Lebanon, the Axios news site quoted Israeli officials as saying on Wednesday.

Hochstein was also in Beirut last month as he continues his efforts to restart the stalled talks.

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 exclusive economic zones.

The Israel-born envoy to the US-mediated talks, a longtime close adviser to President Joe Biden, 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.

Then-US vice president Joe Biden (left) talks with State Department Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein during the Caribbean Energy Security Summit, at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2015. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

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.

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 the border dispute with Israel, paving the way for potential lucrative oil and gas deals.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last month warned Israel against unilaterally searching for natural gas in the disputed maritime region before any agreement between Lebanon and Israel is reached.

In a wide-ranging speech broadcast from an undisclosed location during a ceremony marking Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, Nasrallah said that while he would leave it up to the Lebanese government to negotiate an end to the dispute, his group would not tolerate Israeli searches in the disputed region.

Accusing Israel of casting a “greedy” eye over Lebanon’s natural resources, the terror leader said Israel was “mistaken if it thought it could extract these resources from the disputed area before negotiations are completed.”

“The resistance is capable of acting and will do so against any Israeli actions in the disputed zone,” Nasrallah said, accusing Israel of giving a company the go-ahead to begin explorations.

 

 

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