A partial deal over the delicate Lebanese-Israeli maritime dispute could be set up this year after new ideas were proposed by a U.S led back-channel mediation mission, Israel’s Energy Minister told Reuters.
Lebanon and Israel have been feuding over an 860-sq km disputed area that extends along the edge of three of the 10 blocks that form Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with both parties staking their claim to the oil-rich surface.
The area in question, which falls within Block 9, has been approved for oil and gas exploration after Lebanon signed in February its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements.
The agreement also includes exploration of Block 4 as well located further north along Lebanon’s coast.
Lebanon approved last year a first bid from an international consortium including France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to explore for oil and gas off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
In an interview with Reuters, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that “some new ideas are on the table, more than that I cannot discuss.”
The Minister oversees energy exploration in Israel and is the pointman in indirect negotiations with Lebanon, according to Reuters.
David Satterfield, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, has also held separate meetings with both sets of officials over the past few months to try and resolve the dispute.
Steinitz added that “there is room for optimism” over the geopolitical standoff while expressing “hope that in the coming months, or by the end of the year, we will manage to reach a solution or at least a partial solution to the dispute.”
Earlier this month, Lebanon’s outgoing energy minister Cezar Abi Khalil said that the first phase of oil and gas exploration off the coast had begun after approving an exploration plan submitted by the consortium to search in two of the country’s 10 offshore blocks, adding that drilling would begin in 2019.