The first round of negotiations has been successfully completed with the second meeting scheduled for 28 October

Lebanon and Israel discuss the limits of their maritime borders

photo_camera AP/BILAL HUSSEIN - The Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri

Dialogue and consensus are knocking at the door of the historic conflict between the maritime borders of Israel and Lebanon. Delegations from both countries, which are officially at war, held their first round of indirect contacts this Wednesday to try to reach an agreement on their maritime border.

The United States, once again, has been the direct observer of these negotiations. The meeting was held at the United Nations headquarters in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the city of Naqura, located near the Blue Line, the land border between the two countries, an issue which will also be addressed in the talks in the near future.

This meeting has very special characteristics, since the negotiators sat down at the table during the preliminary talks but did not talk directly. They have therefore used a mediator to maintain contact. No official photograph was taken either.

The head of Middle East affairs at the US State Department, David Schenker, chaired the meeting on this day, while the US ambassador to Algeria, John Desrocher, was the chief mediator, and the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, hosted the meeting.

At the meeting, which lasted approximately one hour, Kubis and Schenker were able to establish the first points of disagreement in order to begin a dialogue with the opposing parties.  It should be remembered that Israel and Lebanon are officially at war and do not maintain diplomatic relations. The border has been the scene of tension in recent months, partly owing to the absence of an agreement on its demarcation.

In the case of the maritime border, which also lacks an agreement between the two countries, tensions have increased in recent years owing to the discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean which both Lebanon and Israel are claiming in their territorial waters. The dispute centres on a difference of a few kilometres (between 5 and 6) with respect to where the dividing line should run.

Following the meeting, the head of the Lebanese delegation, Basam Yassin, expressed Beirut's wish to settle the maritime dispute with Israel "within a reasonable period of time". He said that the meeting in Naqura "is the first step in the thousand mile march around the demarcation of the borders in the south, based on the supreme interests of the country". 

The President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, stressed that these talks would focus solely on technical matters, while sources from the Israeli Ministry of Energy pointed out that 'it will not be a process similar to that held with the United Arab Emirates (UAE)', the country with which Israel signed an agreement last month to normalise relations.

The official Lebanese agency ANN has confirmed the date of the next meeting, which will be the second between these two countries "on matters unrelated to war and security in three decades", according to the Israeli Ministry of Energy.