An Israeli delegation will depart Wednesday for the second round of U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on their disputed maritime border at a United Nations base in southern Lebanon.
The delegations are set to meet on both Wednesday and Thursday at the UNIFIL base in the town of Naqoura, and the meetings will be attended by American mediator John Desrocher.
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The Israeli delegation aims to examine the possibility of reaching an agreement on the determination of the maritime border between the neighboring countries in a way that will enable the development of natural resources in the region.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that there are "positive voices" in Lebanon with regard to a peace treaty with Israel.
Visiting a military exercise in northern Israel, Gantz said, "I hear positive voices from Lebanon, too, that are talking about possibly peace and relations with Israel, who are examining things together with us on the maritime border [negotiations]."
He continued, "Lebanese civilians need to know that Hezbollah is a problem for them as well, [not just] for Israel. If Hezbollah acts against the State of Israel, then Lebanon will pay the price. I hope it doesn't come to that," he said.
The delegations met for the first time two weeks ago, and said in a joint statement released by the U.S. State Department and the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon that the talks were “productive,” and reaffirmed the parties’ "commitment to continue negotiations later this month.”
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Formally still at war after decades of conflict, Lebanon and Israel agreed to launch talks via U.S. mediation over the border running through potentially gas-rich Mediterranean waters after three years of diplomacy by the United States.
These are the first official civilian diplomatic talks in 30 years between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah has said the talks did not signal peace-making with long-time enemy Israel. The talks also come weeks after the United States stepped up sanctions on political allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the midst of Lebanon's deep financial crisis.
The preliminary talks on the issue began quietly in 2019 with U.S. mediation, and focused at first on the status of an offshore natural gas field that is in dispute between the two countries. So far, all the many attempts at mediation have failed. The breakthrough came a short time later, during the last visit to the region by David Schenker, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, who will participate in the meeting on Wednesday.
Schenker has emphasized that the talks will focus on the maritime border only, and for now there is no intention of dealing with other questions in dispute between the two countries – such as the 13 disputed spots along their land border.
Nonetheless, behind the scenes, the United States hopes that a successful agreement over the maritime border could open the door to additional future contacts, against the backdrop of an U.S.-Israeli campaign to weaken the power of Hezbollah in the political arena.