Search
Search

Southern maritime border

Lebanon begins negotiations with Israel in earnest, but without the Palestinians

Lebanon begins negotiations with Israel in earnest, but without the Palestinians

UNIFIL headquarters overlooking the sea in Naqoura. (Reuters/Aziz Taher)

BEIRUT — Lebanese and Israeli delegations met Wednesday in Naqoura to begin deciding who owns the disputed waters extending west from the border town.

The delegations of the two countries, which are officially at war, sit opposite each other, but do not directly speak to each other, instead communicating via a US mediator.

There is one notable absence from these negotiations: the Palestinians, who claim rights to the lands they were ejected from during the Nakba, and by extension, associated waters.

“We want to have a seat at the table,” said Manal Kortam, a Palestinian-Lebanese political activist, adding that taking a Palestinian perspective on the negotiations “didn’t seem to even occur” to the Lebanese side.

Officially, Lebanon says it borders Palestine to the south. Yet in this case, it is seeking to demarcate its southern maritime border with Israel.

“It’s as if Palestinians in Lebanon don’t even exist,” she said.

The talks, held at the base of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, began at around 10 a.m. and lasted just under four hours. Unlike the first meeting earlier this month, which was essentially an opening ceremony and took less than an hour, this second session entered into more substantive discussion of the details of the demarcation.

The talks are the product of years of US-led shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and Lebanese authorities. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who had been taking the lead on negotiations and meetings with US envoys, finally announced a framework for talks at the beginning of this month.

Berri’s own party, the Amal Movement, along with ally Hezbollah, have previously criticized the makeup of the Lebanese delegation, which is composed of two civilians and two military officials.

A number of journalists, including from state channel Télé Liban, were attacked while covering the talks, allegedly by supporters of Hezbollah, whose armed forces went to war with Israel in 2006.

Sources close to the Lebanese delegation told The Daily Star that Lebanon would be taking a “maximalist” stance, whereby they claim the largest area possible as Lebanese.

The Lebanese Army commander, Gen. Joseph Aoun, reportedly instructed Lebanon’s four-person delegation to push for 1,430 square kilometers to be included in the Lebanese share, in addition to the 856 square kilometers of already-disputed waters.

Lebanon hopes that by claiming its sovereignty over these parts of the eastern Mediterranean, it could potentially access hydrocarbon-rich waters.

Two years ago, Lebanon signed an agreement with a consortium of energy giants — France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek — to conduct exploratory drilling missions in two maritime blocs. One of these, Block 9, is partly in the 856-square-kilometer area claimed by both Lebanon and Israel as part of their exclusive economic zones.

In the view of Marwan Abdel Al, a Palestinian author and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon, any deal signed with the Israeli authorities “has no meaning or value” as “[Israel] is an entity based entirely on occupation.”

“For us, this entity will always remain on illegally occupied Palestinian lands, and whatever it tries to negotiate with Lebanon will not be its property,” he said.

Senior Israeli figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, have expressed hope that successful border talks would be the first step toward peace between the two countries.

With the help of US President Donald Trump’s administration, Israel has made what it described as “peace deals” with two Arab states over the summer: Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, countries with which it has never engaged in hostilities. Sudan’s transitional government announced last week that it was also moving toward normalization with Israel.

A small group of protesters from the Lebanese Communist Party held a demonstration outside the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura in tandem with the talks Wednesday, rejecting Israel’s participation in the talks and chanting “no to normalization.”

In a live video shared on the party’s Facebook page, one protester said, “If we are going to draw the border with someone, we will draw it with the State of Palestine, not with the government of the Israeli enemy.”

However, Abdel Al was adamant that the negotiations were not a step toward normalization, a view shared by Hassan Mneimneh, the president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee.

Mneimneh quoted the words of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who said at the end of the 2006 war that “Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel.”

But he stopped short of suggesting that Palestinians should be involved in negotiations.

“For Lebanon, drawing the borders is a purely Lebanese issue, which doesn’t involve Palestinians at the moment,” he said. “They aim to solve technical issues that stem from having an unofficial border.”

Not only will having an official sea border allow Lebanon to continue its exploratory drilling for hydrocarbons, Mneimneh said, but also give the country the power to stand up more definitively against daily Israeli violations of their territory.

Kortam took a more cynical view of Lebanese motivation for finalizing their land border.

“When the Lebanese agreed to the negotiations, they did so for a simple reason,” she said. “It’s all about the money.”


BEIRUT — Lebanese and Israeli delegations met Wednesday in Naqoura to begin deciding who owns the disputed waters extending west from the border town.

The delegations of the two countries, which are officially at war, sit opposite each other, but do not directly speak to each other, instead communicating via a US mediator.

There is one notable absence from these negotiations:...