Lebanon, Israel set to hold first maritime talks

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun meets with caretaker Minister of Defense Zeina Akar and other delegates to discuss talks with Israel on disputed waters, Baabda, Lebanon, Oct. 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Lebanon, Israel set to hold first maritime talks

  • The US-mediated meeting between officials from both sides will be held at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Wednesday
  • Aoun met with the Lebanese negotiating delegation, and expressed hope “to reach a just solution that protects the sovereign rights of the Lebanese people”

BEIRUT: After decades of conflict, Lebanon and Israel are set for the first round of talks over their maritime border that runs through potentially oil- and gas-rich Mediterranean waters.
The US-mediated meeting between officials from both sides will be held at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Wednesday. This will be followed by talks on demarcating the land border.
David Schenker, US undersecretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, will preside over the inaugural session of the maritime talks, according to the State Department. Beirut insists that these talks “have nothing to do with normalization” of ties with Israel.
On the eve of the meeting, Lebanese President Michel Aoun reviewed preparations for it and met with Jan Kubis, UN special coordinator for Lebanon.
“The UN welcomes hosting the negotiations session,” Kubis said. “The international organization will do its duty by hosting and sponsoring the negotiations, and provide all necessary facilities to make it successful.”
Aoun met with the Lebanese negotiating delegation, and expressed hope “to reach a just solution that protects the sovereign rights of the Lebanese people.”
According to Aoun’s media office, he said: “The negotiations are technical and limited to demarcating the maritime borders … The US party is present in the negotiations as a mediator to facilitate the process.”
He instructed the delegation “to stick to and defend Lebanese rights recognized internationally.”
Lebanon is putting high hopes on a positive outcome, which could foster a secure environment for international companies to explore oil and gas fields off the country’s coast.

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The contested zone between Lebanon and Israel in the Mediterranean is estimated at 860 sq. km and is known as Block 9, which is rich in oil and gas.
“What’s expected on Wednesday during the negotiations is that each party will come up with a paper that includes all subjects that will be put on the table, and the US side might come up with a paper that includes some solutions,” Dr. Riad Tabbarah, former Lebanese ambassador to Washington, told Arab News.
“Usually an agenda is set with a primary point that negotiations would revolve around, then points that might lead to an agreement would be picked up to build on them to reach a final agreement over all other points,” he said.
“Each party will try whatever it can to get the maximum that it could in the negotiations. These talks might also be stalled so that each party would refer to its government.”
But the absence of a government in Lebanon begs the question: To whom will the country’s delegation refer?
Former Minister Rachid Derbas told Arab News: “In this case and according to the constitution, it will be the president of the republic, but in case of the need to take a decision, this necessitates the availability of an active government and not a caretaker government, as is the case today.”
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora criticized Aoun “for breaching the constitution while forming the negotiating delegation with Israel,” because “according to the constitution and to the norms, the president should have consulted with the prime minister prior to the formation of the delegation.”


Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

Updated 22 October 2020

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

  • Hariri immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan
  • He has previously led three governments in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three-time Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was named to the post for a fourth time Thursday and immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan.
Hariri said he would “form a cabinet of non politically aligned experts with the mission of economic, financial and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative roadmap.”
“I will work on forming a government quickly because time is running out and this is the only and last chance facing our country,” he added.
President Michel Aoun named Hariri to form a new cabinet to lift the country out of crisis after most parliamentary blocs backed his nomination.
Hariri, who has previously led three governments in Lebanon, stepped down almost a year ago under pressure from unprecedented protests against the political class.
“The president summoned... Saad Al-Deen Al-Hariri to task him with forming a government,” a spokesman for the presidency said.
Hariri was backed by a majority of 65 lawmakers, while 53 abstained.
Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from a devastating port blast that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of Beirut in August.
Aoun warned Wednesday that the new prime minister, the third in a year, would have to spearhead reforms and battle corruption.
A relatively unknown diplomat, Mustapha Adib, had been nominated in late August following the resignation of his predecessor Hassan Diab’s government in the aftermath of the deadly port blast.
Adib had vowed to form a cabinet of experts, in line with conditions set by French President Emmanuel Macron to help rescue the corruption-ridden country from its worst ever economic crisis.
He faced resistance from some of the main parties however and threw in the towel nearly a month later, leaving Lebanon rudderless to face soaring poverty and the aftermath of its worst peacetime disaster.