Lebanon, Israel postpone fifth round of maritime talks

Lebanon, Israel postpone fifth round of maritime talks
Lebanon and Israel are aiming to resolve a dispute about their maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area. Above, an Israeli navy corvette on southern Lebanese border town of Naqura as it patrols the waters. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 01 December 2020

Lebanon, Israel postpone fifth round of maritime talks

Lebanon, Israel postpone fifth round of maritime talks
  • International community must play essential role in solving the issue, Middle East energy expert tells Arab News

BEIRUT: The fifth round of negotiations regarding the demarcation of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel has been postponed until further notice.

This announcement came 48 hours prior to talks scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

Reuters had quoted a Lebanese security source and an Israeli official saying that “the US-mediated talks were postponed until further notice,” with the Lebanese source blaming the delay on “Israel’s rejection of Lebanese proposals.”

The office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis refused to comment on this move, as did the US Embassy in Beirut.

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz had accused Lebanon of “changing its position regarding the maritime borders demarcation seven times,” adding that its positions so far had been “provocative.” His comment came after the fourth round of negotiations, held on Nov. 11 at the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) headquarters in Ras Al-Naqoura.

“Lebanon’s position during the fourth round of negotiations not only contradicts its previous positions, but also contradicts Lebanon’s position regarding the maritime borders with Syria, which takes the Lebanese island near the borders into consideration,” he added.

Steinitz also stressed the importance of “adhering to the principle of stability and settling the dispute according to what Israel and Lebanon had submitted to the United Nations. Any deviation from that principle will lead to a dead end,” he warned, hoping for a breakthrough in the upcoming few months.

Middle East energy expert Marc Ayoub told Arab News: “The current suspension and postponement of the negotiations is for tactical reasons. Lebanon and Israel are clinging to their positions regarding the starting point of the maritime border demarcation. Lebanon wants it to be Ras Al-Naqoura, while Israel wants to go from unpopulated maritime ridges.”

He added: “What is happening is just a rope-pulling process between the two sides. I think that the international community has to play an essential role in solving this issue, as it can benefit from the UNIFIL forces and their equipment to resolve the dispute and identify the coordinates according to international law.

“I know that the American mediator will visit Lebanon and Israel to ease the tension and I think that what is happening is an attempt to win some time while waiting for the American decision.”

The maritime negotiations between the two countries focus on an area of 860 square kilometers based on a map that was sent to the UN in 2011. This area is considered rich in natural gas fields and oil reserves.

Lebanon, lead by a pro-Hezbollah president and government, is demanding an additional area of 1,430 square kilometers that includes a part of the Karish field, in which the Greek Energean oil and gas exploration company is operating.

Lebanon started demarcating its maritime borders in 2002, when the Lebanese government entrusted an oceanography center, in cooperation with the UK Hydrographic Office, with preparing a study to demarcate its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in order to conduct a geological survey to explore for oil and gas in the region. In 2006, the government once again commissioned the UK Hydrographic Office to demarcate Lebanon’s maritime borders, to update previous results.

On Jan. 17, 2007, Lebanon signed an agreement with Cyprus on delineating the borders of the EEZ between the two countries in order to strengthen relations and boost cooperation to invest oil resources.

According to the Lebanese Army website, this agreement was based on the laws stipulated in the UN Convention on the law of the Sea, and the EEZ between Lebanon and Cyprus was established based on the center line.

However, in 2011 Cyprus agreed a deal with Israel to delineate the EEZ between them, disregarding the Lebanon agreement.

This led to Lebanon losing a maritime area of more than 860 square kilometres of its EEZ, containing large amounts of oil and gas.

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.