News Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border demarcation talks accelerated by U.S. sanctions, outcome uncertain, experts say

Source: Xinhua| 2020-10-03 18:21:48|Editor: huaxia

by Dana Halawi

BEIRUT, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Local experts said that U.S. sanctions against Lebanese officials accelerated talks between Lebanon and Israel over border demarcation, but the negotiations' outcome are uncertain.

Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri announced on Thursday that the framework was agreed upon to begin indirect talks mediated by U.S. with Israel on land and maritime border demarcation. It was less than a month following U.S. sanctions imposed on Lebanon's former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who is Berri's top aid.

Chair of the Political Studies Department at the American University of Beirut Hilal Kashan told Xinhua that the House speaker aimed to defuse tension created by the U.S. against his party Amal Movement and its ally Hezbollah following the sanctions announced last month by the United States against Khalil.

Khashan believes that the U.S. announcement for talks on border demarcation ahead of its presidential elections aimed to increase the chance for U.S. President Donald Trump to be re-elected in November, especially after his mediation in peace deals between Israel and UAE as well as Israel and Bahrain.

Sami Nader, director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Lebanon, told Xinhua that border demarcation talks were accelerated following the sanctions imposed against a member of Amal Movement, a close ally of Hezbollah.

According to Nader, U.S. sanctions against Khalil aimed to created pressure against the two Shiite political parties, which was reflected by the visit of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker early September to Lebanon without meeting any of the country's officials while choosing to only meet with opposition demonstrators.

"We are encouraging this leadership to be flexible, to embrace reform, to embrace transparency, to fight corruption, and to get with the program," Schenker was quoted as saying by the media.

Berri denied at a press conference remarks about sanctions being behind border demarcation talks, while saying the negotiation will have great economic benefit for Lebanon amid its current economic collapse by pumping money into the country.

However, some analysts are not certain about the outcome of the talks, which will begin after mid-October.

According to Khashan, indirect talks with Israel on maritime borders may succeed by dividing the 860 square kilometers of disputed area among Lebanon and Israel, although Berri previously assured that Lebanon will not give up on any of its territorial waters.

However, Hezbollah might not allow land borders demarcation to succeed because there would be no justification for Hezbollah's military component, for instance, the resistance which aims at restoring the occupied Shebaa Farms or Kfarchouba Hills, said Khashan.

The framework of negotiations announced by Berri entails that both land and maritime border demarcation will go together.

Also, Khashan believes that Lebanon does not have the luxury of time to wait for talks to demarcate borders, start oil and gas explorations and extract Lebanon's wealth to improve its economy, which contradicts Berri's justifications for immediate talks.

For his part, although Nader is not certain about the outcome of negotiations, he believes that border demarcation is a key issue for both the U.S. and Lebanon. The latter is looking eagerly for oil and gas exploration in hope to be able to extract its oil wealth.

The U.S. has been sponsoring an alliance in the East Mediterranean between Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Italy to create a pipeline which would allow Israel to export its gas to Europe by 2025.

"Border demarcation would reduce the risk of any potential conflict that will endanger the region and the new pipeline," Nader said.

Lebanon is reeling under the worst economic and financial crisis in its history and the country is in dire need for a new source of revenue to save it from further collapse.

In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production contracts for two energy blocks with a consortium of France's Total, Italy's Eni and Russia's Novatek.

In April 2019, former Lebanese Energy Minister Nada Boustani announced the launch of Lebanon's second licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration in five other blocks. Enditem