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Updated: Nov 14, 2023

By Mark Young

Rational Games, Inc.

This month, I was “pleased to notice” (to borrow a phrase from our seminars) a rare negotiation hope and success in the Middle East:  the recently concluded gas exploration deal reached just weeks ago by Israel and Lebanon.

The deal on the 330 square miles of the joint maritime (not the land) border creates a new line through the contested waters and straddling the Qana natural gas field allows both parties to produce gas and collect royalties on their side of the line.  Israel, at the same time, retained exclusive rights to the Karish gas field.  This may not sound like much, but it is..

Three lessons can, I think, be drawn from this breakthrough:

  1. Sometimes little deals are the way to start.  After decades of failed peace negotiations in this region, this one seems to have succeeded largely because it was manageable.  The formal documents make it clear that this is “not about peace, and is not even a partnership”.  Some Lebanese wags are even calling it “soft recognition”.  But nevertheless, it is a concrete start with some useful procedural lessons for how similar problems might be tackled not only in the Middle East.

As the Harvard people say, we are “getting in the habit of agreeing”.

  1. Shared interests are a powerful ingredient in negotiation, even in situations of intransigent conflict.  Neither Israel nor Lebanon can afford a war right now, and both are afraid of what mischief Hezbollah might come up with.  This offers at least a temporary stopgap in hostilities, with even the long-disputed border no longer patrolled by soldiers and mines, but now by a simple line of buoys!

  1. The deal is not only classic Win-Win but benefits other parties as well, all building on divergent interests.  Lebanon gets badly needed gas to get its energy grid going again.  Israel enjoys more security on its northern border.  The Americans get kudos for skillfully coaching this result over many years of trying.  The Europeans have found an alternative fuel source in their efforts to wean themselves off Russian gas.  And the French company Total can celebrate a lucrative new contract.  What is not to like?

Certainly, the road ahead is far from certain.  With the return of Netanyahu, the Israelis may still scuttle the deal. The rampant cronyism in Lebanon rouses worries about where the money will go.  And Hezbollah continues to play the spoiler.

Nevertheless:  this is a ray of hope that should be celebrated.  Chapeau, all!

Comments welcome.


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