Italy Seeks to Broker a Land Border Deal With Israel, Lebanon

(Bloomberg) -- Italy is working to clinch a land border agreement between Lebanon and Israel in an effort to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, according to Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

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Rome is using a landmark maritime border accord the two nations signed in 2022 as a blueprint for a land deal, Tajani said in an interview on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington.

“The situation is very tense, and we have been — and are working — to ensure that the maritime borders agreement can come to be for the land borders too,” he said. Even though the situation is “difficult,” he said, Italian diplomats were pushing ahead with negotiations.

The aim, he said, was to find a solution “that could create distance between Israel and Hezbollah,” a key Iranian proxy active in Lebanon. He added that Israel would certainly react if there were to be a Hezbollah advance.

Messages left with spokespeople in the Israeli and Lebanese embassies in Washington seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.

Italy has traditionally sought to project itself as a mediator in the Middle East, maintaining relations with both Israel and Iran.

“Italians are able to be flexible, and that’s why we have good relations with everyone,” he said. “It isn’t easy, but this shows we can be an instrument for peace.”

The US, which designates Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has been leading diplomatic efforts between the militant group and Israel.

Italy, which backs a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of hostages held there, was supportive of an Arab-led peacekeeping mission with the UN in the Gaza strip once the war with Israel ends, Tajani said. He said parties involved in those conversations include Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Cease-Fire Talks

Tajani reiterated Rome’s support for Israel’s “right to exist” but also said: “We’re also asking Israel to realize that peace needs to be reached at at some point.”

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon, which don’t recognize each other, have ratcheted up in recent months. The two countries have been engaged in increasing hostilities since Oct. 7, with communities evacuated on both sides of the border amid exchanges of fire.

Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah said this week that the Lebanese militant group would halt attacks on Israel “without question” in the event of a cease-fire in Gaza.

Tajani reiterated his support for a two-state solution, but stressed it has to be mutual in order for the recognition of a State of Palestine to be more than just a formality. “It’s the only path we have available if we don’t want to keep going for another 50 years” with these hostilities, he said.

--With assistance from Courtney McBride.

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