In border talks with Lebanon, Israel is prepared to make more territorial demands.

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According to a map obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Israel is preparing to respond to increased demands from Lebanon by demanding more than twice the region of the Mediterranean Sea that is actually in dispute.

The diagram shows “Line 310,” or the red line, which extends somewhat farther north than Israel’s starting negotiating point, which is represented on the map as the blue line.

In October, Israel and Lebanon started discussions on their maritime boundary via the United States, which became the first talks between the two countries in 30 years. The countries hope that resolving the boundary would enable further gas discovery in the area.

Israel already pumps significant amounts of gas from the Mediterranean, but Lebanon has yet to do so.

The Lebanese delegation refused to speak directly to the Israelis during the talks at Naqoura, a UN base on the Israel-Lebanon border, and was under heavy pressure from Hezbollah to leave the talks.

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Negotiations came to an end in November after four rounds of discussions. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Energy Minister, accused Lebanon of changing its stance seven times, posing “positions that add up to a provocation.”

The blue and green lines on the map reflect the official locations of the countries as reported to the UN. The contested region extends from the countries’ Mediterranean Sea borders and is 5 to 6 kilometres deep on average. The initial conflict area will account for about 2% of Israel’s economic water.

During the talks, Lebanon expanded its demand for a line stretching far farther south, raising the disputed area from about 860 square kilometres to 2,300 square kilometres.

Lebanese Public Works and Transport Minister Michel Najjar announced two weeks ago that the government had signed a decree extending Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea to the degree proposed in the talks, adding that it would be forwarded to the UN.

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“We will not give up a single inch of our homeland, a drop of its waters, or an inch of its dignity,” he declared.

Steinitz then directed that Israel make maximalist demands in response to the Lebanese arguments, and the Energy Ministry traced the new line on the map.

“This was not our original intention, but as soon as Lebanon moved forwards with submitting their line, we prepared to submit ours, which, in symmetry with theirs, encroaches on hundreds of kilometres of Lebanon’s economic waters,” a ministry source said on Monday.

The latest Israeli line is focused on the maritime boundaries of Cyprus and Lebanon.

“It doesn’t promote a solution, but it creates symmetry,” the source said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to sign the decree expanding Lebanon’s maritime borders and submit the new map to the UN.

As such, Israel has withheld its map, “out of a real desire to give continued negotiations a chance,” the Energy Ministry source said.

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Last week, following a meeting with Aoun, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said negotiations between Israel and Lebanon “have potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon.”

“This is all the more critical against the backdrop of the severe economic crisis the country is facing,” he said.

The Energy Ministry source expressed hope that under the Biden administration the talks will restart and be productive.

 

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