BY : Joseph Haboush
Lebanon and Israel are at a moment of “narrowing” gaps towards reaching a deal on their disputed maritime borders, a senior US diplomat said on Wednesday.
“I think after 10 years of these discussions, it’s time for moving on to a deal. I came here in November. I was in Israel. And now we’re at a stage where I understand the parties’ positions, and I think that we’re at the moment of narrowing those gaps towards a deal,” the State Department’s senior advisor for global energy security, Amos Hochstein, said.
But progress seems to have been made, building off former US diplomat David Schenker’s successful efforts to get Lebanese and Israeli officials in the same room for indirect talks.
After a few rounds of talks at the end of 2020, the US stopped the discussions when Lebanon suddenly demanded an extra 1,425 square kilometers (550 sq. miles).
Israel proceeded to put forth maximalist demands as well.
Reports of a divide between Lebanese officials, specifically its president and parliament speaker, surfaced over the new demands.
But Hochstein said he was confident that a unified position would be put forth by all parties.
“I’m pretty optimistic, and I hope and trust… I am confident that there will be a unified position in Lebanon, that there’ll be a unified position in Israel, and that we’ll be able to move forward,” he said during an interview with Lebanese TV channel LBCI.
The US diplomat met with Lebanon’s top officials on Wednesday after doing the same in Israel last week.
He said negotiations were about compromise. “It’s about reaching a settlement where neither side gets 100 percent of what they want.
“It’s the right time to move away from the distractions of external pressures that both sides face and stay focused on what this dispute is about,” he said, referring to the disputed border points of where each country’s waters begin and end.
“There’s no later anymore. This is the later. This is the last minute,” Hochstein said of the need to reach a deal.