Lebanon Proposes a Pushback on Maritime Border Claims with Israel

The Lebanese government is set to compromise with Israel over the developing Karish gas field in disputed territory. US energy representative and mediator Amos Hochstein met with officials in Beirut on Monday to discuss a proposal for new boundaries. A ship operated by Energean, an English company, was on its way to the gas field when the Lebanese government objected to its arrival, contesting that there should not be developed until talks had finished regarding maritime borders. Israel claims Karish is within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is defined by the United Nations as a border extending 230 miles beyond a nation’s land borders. The dispute over the English vessel stopped last year after Lebanon pushed their sea borders an extra 1400 square km than originally agreed, which included Karish. Now, President Michel Aoun is dropping the “Line 29” claim and moving back to exclude Karish, but still, demands that Israel stop construction until talks have elapsed. Lebanon would still receive Qana, another potentially-viable area for gas.

President Aoun’s retraction of Line 29 came after multiple Lebanese parliament members, including Mark Daou, were told by the president he could not “insist on Line 29” in negotiations. In an interview with Reuters, MP Daou remarked that the president did not “have the technical foundations on which to construct a case for Line 29 because previous governments had failed to produce formal documentation to maintain this position.”

The agreement and its quick conclusion have been labeled as crucial for future peace negotiations between Israel and Lebanon. “Lebanon, more than Israel today, needs this deal,” said Lebanese oil and gas expert Laury Haytayan, according to CNN. The deal would provide security for Israel without the “constant danger of potential escalation.”

The retraction of Line 29 by Lebanon is a good sign for peaceful negotiations prevailing regarding two major players in Middle East border disputes; however, the issue itself questions how effective border solutions are in broad terms. The United Nations created a charter regarding claims to waters in countries’ EEZ, but this example contradicts that agreement. It is a sign that countries need to revisit these “universal agreements” that still require negotiations to happen. Regarding disputes in the region, Lebanon and Israel avoiding violent approaches to this situation is hopefully a movement in a peaceful direction. Time will tell if other nations also feuding with Israel can reach similar conclusions.

The Karish gas field is not an ignorable area for collecting oil in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in the Levantine Basin, which could reportedly hold close to 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of gas. The area has not recently become disputed; for years, Lebanon and Israel have both claimed about 860 square kilometers of the sea that falls between the two countries. They are, however, moving in very different directions regarding economic power in oil and gas internationally. Israel, with help from aiding allies, the US and UK, is becoming a natural gas supplier, especially in place of Russia. Lebanon is in search of revenue from new oil and gas resources and could use complete ownership in parts of the Basin. The dispute comes in part due to Lebanon’s struggle with natural resources and maintaining revenue in the economy, in constant fighting with local militarized groups and competing countries. More information on Lebanon’s economic crisis and past events connected to the situation can be found on the OWP’s crisis index.

The movement closer to compromise between Lebanon and Israel can hopefully avoid violent conflict while benefitting both countries economically. The Karish gas field and maritime disputes like it should be held up as examples of peaceful negotiation but also show the need for a more concrete definition of what countries can claim outside of their land borders.