Biden envoy to oversee signing of Lebanon, Israel maritime deal

President Biden’s energy envoy is traveling to Beirut on Wednesday as part of the final steps in securing a breakthrough agreement between Lebanon and Israel that establishes a sea boundary between the two countries.

Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security, will meet with Lebanon’s leaders in Beirut and then travel to the Lebanese city of Naqoura where Lebanese and Israeli officials are expected to participate in a signing ceremony in the presence of the U.S. and United Nations.

In Beirut, Hochstein will “extend his gratitude” to Lebanon’s president, Speaker of the Parliament and prime minister “for the consultative and open spirit demonstrated throughout the negotiations,” the State Department said.

The signing ceremony is expected to take place on Thursday, Hochstein told CBS’s “Face the Nation” this past weekend.

Hochstein will then travel to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and “thank him and his team for their persistent and principled diplomacy to reach resolution on this critical file,” according to the State Department.

The agreement between Lebanon and Israel marks a breakthrough in relations between the two countries, which are technically at war and where Lebanon has refused to recognize Israel’s existence.

Amid intense outbreaks of war and conflict between Lebanon and Israel, the border between the two countries has been monitored by United Nations peacekeepers for more than four decades.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission, called UNIFIL, is based in Naqoura.

Israeli and Lebanese officials are expected to sit in the same room during the signing ceremony Thursday, the Times of Israel reported, though it noted that may change.

The maritime boundary deal will draw a line between territorial waters of Lebanon and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean. As part of the agreement, Israel and Lebanon are given a claim to separate natural gas fields for extraction.

Lapid said that gas extraction from the Karish gas field began on Wednesday.

Experts say the agreement on a maritime boundary signals a paradigm shift for Lebanon that, de facto, recognizes Israel’s existence as a sovereign state.

However, experts say it does not signal a broader breakthrough in relations, like the normalization agreements between Jerusalem and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, called the Abraham Accords.

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