Trump tries to renew Israeli-Lebanese talks on Mediterranean gas fields

The Israel-Lebanon dispute on Mediterranean gas fields was reignited this week as the Trump administration renewed pushes for talks between the countries, according to Axios. 

The Trump administration is reportedly aiming to finally settle the demarcation of maritime borders, which might lead to a solution for the dispute between both countries over natural gas explorations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea

Israel and Lebanon have a dispute over an 860 sq. km. (about 332 sq. mi.) area in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that includes several blocs rich in natural gas off the coasts of both countries.

Israeli and US officials told Axios that Trump is hoping to relaunch the diplomatic talks before the upcoming general elections in November. 

Israel and Lebanon have failed to enter negotiations surrounding this issue for decades. Renewing the talks would be perceived as a big achievement for the White House.INSS map of gas pipelines and fields in the Middle East (INSS)INSS map of gas pipelines and fields in the Middle East (INSS)

According to Axios, the border dispute is also the reason for the US halting its plans for natural gas exploration in the area, an endeavor that has interested several American energy companies. 

In 2019 there was a near breakthrough in negotiations, as then Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David M. Satterfield, presented a plan for renewing talks between Israel and Lebanon with US and UN mediation.

But that attempt eventually failed, for various reasons, including Israel’s refusal for UN mediation of the talks and pressure put on the Lebanese government by Hezbollah. 

But things have since changed. 

Lebanon is still dealing with the devastating ramifications of the Beirut explosion, including a growing economic crisis and ongoing public criticism of Hezbollah’s role in the country. This new playing field is reportedly what led the Trump administration to renew its efforts for launching negotiations. 

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker visited Israel last week and presented Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi with an updated draft agreement for launching a new round of negotiations, according to Axios. 

Currently, the biggest barrier that prevents the negotiations from taking place is the disagreement between Israel and Lebanon on the nature of mediation. While Lebanon wants both the US and the UN as mediators, Israel wants the US as the only mediator for the negotiations. 

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