Lebanon will enter a new political phase after it accepted to hold UN-sponsored and US-mediated negotiations with Israel to demarcate disputed maritime and land borders.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had effectively kicked off this new phase by announcing the framework agreement that was reached between Lebanon and Israel to launch the talks.
A prominent opposition source called for “political protection” for the speaker instead of jumping to conclusions over the purposes of the negotiations even before they have even started, especially amid speculation that they may pave the way for the normalization of ties between Lebanon and Israel.
The talks, which will be led by the army on the Lebanese side, are set to begin next week.
The source called for closely monitoring Hezbollah’s reaction to the talks, and that of its backer Iran, to determine the reasons that prompted the turnaround over the negotiations. The party was seen as biding time and waiting on diplomatic efforts that may resolve the border dispute.
They noted that Berri would not have announced the framework agreement had he not reached an understanding with his ally, Hezbollah, thereby warding off any Shiite criticism against him for taking such an unprecedented move towards Israel.
The source wondered why Hezbollah allowed Berri to make the announcement in the first place. Does the party need to bide time with Iran until the American presidential elections are held? It also asked whether Hezbollah deliberately chose Washington, instead of Paris, as the mediator because it believes that it alone can offer political gains.
France has been spearheading efforts to push much-needed reform in Lebanon in wake of its unprecedented stifling economic crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts have hit a wall however, with Lebanese officials failing to form a new government capable of kicking off the reform.
The collapse of this effort and the agreement to launch talks with Israel are seen as a move by the “Shiite duo” of Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal movement, with Iran’s backing, to normalize American-Shiite ties, while still appeasing their other ally, Syria. The decision to exclude the disputed southern Shebaa Farms from the demarcation talks are seen as a gesture to assure Damascus that the talks with Israel will not strike a deal at its expense or that excludes it.