Last week, Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, announced that an agreement had been reached on a framework for negotiations with Israel to delineate the two nations’ maritime boundaries. The agreement, mediated by the US, could allow them to resolve their dispute over offshore gas fields in the Mediterranean.
Mr Berri is a close ally of the militant political party Hezbollah, and the fact that he approved of the framework suggested the party had given him the go-ahead to do so. But it didn’t make the decision any less remarkable. By agreeing to indirect negotiations, Hezbollah implicitly acknowledged that a compromise could be reached when it had argued that Lebanon’s rights to its offshore gas were inviolable. That prior insistence meant, in principle, that there was nothing over which to compromise.
Stark reality, however, has trumped ideology. Lebanon is going through a terrible economic crisis, exacerbated by the resistance of the country’s politicians and parties to introducing reforms that would unlock financial aid from the International Monetary Fund. Such reforms would threaten their networks of corruption and patronage. That is why the prospect of offshore gas reserves represents a valuable lifeline for them, especially when Hezbollah’s and Mr Berri’s supporters are increasingly unhappy with Lebanon’s economic situation…
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