Joe Biden's administration is on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the Middle East, quietly pushing for an agreement between Israel and Lebanon on territorial maritime boundaries, The Hill writes.
The negotiations appear to be nearing the finish line amid intense contacts between U.S., Israeli and Lebanese officials this week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The administration has gone to great lengths to downplay the potential agreement, fearing that anything that looks like a normalization of relations between Israel and Lebanon will trigger a disastrous Hizbullah response.
But if the agreement between Lebanon and Israel succeeds - with Beirut implicitly recognizing Israel's legitimacy while both sides are at war - it would be a huge victory for the Biden administration using diplomacy to foster stability in the Middle East.
Amos Hochstein, the president's special coordinator for international energy, is leading the negotiations. He began mediating between Israel and Lebanon in mid-October, following talks that began during the former Trump administration in 2020.
The talks have attracted little attention, in part because of major world crises. But it also reflects the administration's desire to remain in the shadows.
The agreement is expected to establish a border between Israel and Lebanon in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. This will clarify how the two countries can benefit from the exploration of the Karish natural gas field.
Lebanese officials are signaling significant progress toward an agreement. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said in a speech to the General Assembly that "we have made tangible progress, which we hope will soon achieve the desired results.
Part of the progress is a consensus between Israel and Lebanon on the benefits of settling the maritime border. Israel wants to avoid conflict with Lebanon and generally advance its relations in the region, while Lebanon is in dire need of any economic benefit to be gained from gas exploration in this part of the Mediterranean Sea.