For decades now, the Lebanese Maritime Border Negotiations have been the ultimate example of the leader’s botched and failed policies for the nation. After many attempts for decades to define this border, you would think that they could finally get it right?
Instead, under successive Governments, this process has included numerous delineations, failures to register the different decrees both with Parliament and with the United Nations, a bad and costly agreement with Cyprus, and a history of lack of follow up and execution both on the Northern border with Syria and in the South with Israel.
Last year, indirect negotiations with Israel were launched in an effort to revive the matter and address a major economic opportunity for Lebanon during this time of great crisis and hardship.
However, midway into the negotiations, the basis which had been agreed upon prior to the talks with all the parties which included the Americans, The Israelis and The United Nations was changed, and the demarcation Point 23 was replaced with Point 29 giving Lebanon the right to an additional area of 1,430 square kilometers.
Proposing Point 29 was a drastic modification that was interjected in the middle of the negotiations, which were already underway on the basis of different set of assumptions. It is obvious that the negotiating team did not take this position alone, but with the support of the President, who pushed for the amendment of the related Decree 6433 to reflect this change.
The talks ended at that time after the President of the Republic met with the American mediator John Desrocher on December 2, 2020, and he informed him that Lebanon would maintain Line 29 as the new basis for the talks.
Then suddenly, last week, 5 months after insisting on Point 29, during the visit of the US envoy, David Hale, the President suddenly refused to sign the amendment to the Decree claiming that he required the full cabinet’s approval, even though he has in the past signed hundreds of “extraordinary approvals” to pass less urgent motions. This meant that the President for whatever reason one can speculate, was backing down from his previous entrenchment.
After the Prime Minister Designate, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Transport had all signed the amendment to the Decree, The President’s refusal to sign it has just wasted half a year of progress when negotiations could have been taking place and the matter could have possibly been resolved.
The questions now are: Will the President sign the amendment to the Decree today prior to the resumption of the negotiations tomorrow? Will he give his team the support that they need to stand their ground? Or will he leave them mired in confusion at the onset of the talks?
To make matters worse, a few days ago former minister Gebran Bassil gave a speech where he muddied the waters even more when he proposed that Lebanon should adopt another “imaginary” line between Hof and Line 29, excluding lines 1 and 23. This erratic set of proposals would indicate that he is looking for a reason to postpone a solution. Maybe he is hoping that it will be deferred to a time when he sees himself as President and reaping the benefits of such a deal? In the meantime Lebanon is dying and does not have the luxury of time or endless delays.
First of all on what grounds is Gebran Bassil involved in these negotiations? As the son-in-law of the President? As a deputy? As the head of a political a political party? Or as a means to insert himself in the discussion as a way of enticing the American’s to lift the sanctions from him?
This debacle over the demarcation line has just highlighted the underlying incompetence of the Presidential team responsible for this file at the palace in Baabda, and has made apparent their inability to formulate a consistent national strategy for the country to preserve and grow its wealth and assets.
Forget the humiliation of being a nation so disorganized that we cannot even get this matter right, the worst part is that this Sovereign wealth is now seemingly being forfeited as usual for narrow familial ambitions.