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Lebanon's oil in exchange for negotiating with the occupation

Smoke rises after a fire broke out at warehouse where oil and tires are placed in Port of Beirut on 10 September 2020 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]
Smoke rises after a fire broke out at warehouse where oil and tires are placed in Port of Beirut on 10 September 2020 [Mahmut Geldi/Anadolu Agency]

The Trump administration is pressuring Lebanon to open a line for direct negotiations with Israel before the elections. It seems that wishful thinking is one thing, but the reality Lebanon is experiencing, with its political components and complications is another. Washington and Israel are still hoping to make a breakthrough in the Lebanese scene, not only with regards to the formation of the new government, but also regarding claiming Lebanon's gas and oil, which Israel claims to have a right to. The wishful thinking of the two has reached the point of a common belief that direct negotiations can begin between Lebanon and the occupation before the American elections.

An American delegate has revealed his administration's intentions and informed the Lebanese officials that benefitting from Lebanon's oil wealth is linked to negotiating with the occupation. David Schenker, assistant head of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the State Department, visited Lebanon and met with Lebanese officials and exposed the American administrations' intentions behind the negotiation process for demarcating the borders with Israel. After David's visit, it became apparent that his vision, which was not without an American trap for Lebanon, was a disguised initiative to continue pressuring the Lebanese government to drag it into negotiations beyond the demarcation of borders.

Informed sources say that Lebanon is suffering from a stifling economic crisis and worsening financial hardship, and this has opened the door for great international pressures, which have recently gone beyond demands for economic reforms, to reach the stage of political-security demands that are wrapped in an economic cover. This was clearly demonstrated during the talks conducted by Pierre Dukan, the French delegate charged with following up on the implementation of the decisions of the Cedar Conference. This was then followed up by David Schenker. The US effort is focused on finding a direct negotiation channel between the two sides, to agree on the borders of the economic waters and divide the disputed areas between them, as the situation in Lebanon has become favourable, which was not the case in the past.

READ: Aoun warns Lebanon will go 'to hell' unless government agreed

High-ranking Israeli and American officials said, in separate conversations to Israeli news site Walla, that the American administration's goal is to achieve direct negotiations before the presidential elections in November. This would be a major political achievement for President Donald Trump, as in addition to resolving the dispute over the maritime borders, no direct political negotiations have taken place between the two sides for 30 years.

However, what is motivating the US administration to hope that it can impose its political will on the Lebanese side this time? The report indicates that conditions have become favourable in recent weeks, specifically after the catastrophic explosion in the Beirut port, and due to the repercussions of the economic crisis in Lebanon, in addition to internal criticism from the Lebanese parties of Hezbollah. These are all factors that prompted the US administration to resume its efforts to start negotiations between the two countries.

Lebanon will rise up from its ashes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon will rise up from its ashes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israeli sources note that it was to this end that David Schenker visited Israel and met with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is in charge of the maritime border file on behalf of the Israeli government. He also met with the new Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi; whose office is a partner in the ongoing contacts.

According to the same sources, Schenker briefed the two ministers, Steinitz and Ashkenazi, after his return from Beirut of the contents of his talks with the Lebanese side, and presented them with an updated draft of a document of principles to start negotiations.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 21 September 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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