Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar on Friday published a report headlined, “Hochstein postponed his return, and Tel Aviv is angry about the negotiations being exposed! Did the enemy back down from offering to evacuate Ghajar?”
The report suggests that US envoy Amos Hochstein, who visited Beirut last summer, proposed an outline according to which Israel would completely withdraw from all points of contention on the border with Lebanon, in exchange for removing Hezbollah military units from the vicinity of the border.
As the headline stressed, Hochstein pressured Israel to also surrender the thriving village of Ghajar, an Alawite-Arab community located at the triangle where the borders of three countries meet: Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.
Until 2022, a barrier was placed at the entrance to the village, and entry was only allowed to residents and IDF soldiers. In September 2022, after the Ghajar council erected a fence blocking the passage to the village from Lebanon, the barriers at the entrance to the village and the restrictions on entering it from Israel were removed, and the IDF removed its barrier.
The village has developed a thriving tourism industry that caters to Israeli Jews and Arabs. They sell the good air, the fabulous view, and great traditional cuisine.
As of 2023, northern Ghajar is under Israeli control, and Lebanon and Hezbollah continue to demand Israel’s withdrawal from the northern part of the village, as well as from the Kfarchouba hills and the Shebaa Farms. To these claims, Hezbollah has added a demand to return seven villages to Lebanese sovereignty.
According to Al-Akhbar, the serious discussion on Israel’s complete withdrawal began “after the enemy requested a secret meeting between two military delegations, an Israeli and a Lebanese, under the auspices of the commander of the international forces operating in the south, to discuss the border and investigate violations of Resolution 1701.”
The November 8, 2006, UN Resolution 1701 established the full cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the Blue Line, deployment of Lebanese forces to Southern Lebanon, and strengthening of the UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL).
The bilateral meeting was preceded by the arrival of American special envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut, at the end of August, and his statements to Lebanese officials that he was tasked by his government with managing negotiations to address the outstanding points on the land border, similar to the negotiations with former interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, to demarcate the maritime border.
“Hochstein expressed great enthusiasm and spoke of the enemy government’s readiness to proceed with negotiations until the full step was completed. He stressed that Israel is ready to discuss everything Lebanon requests, starting from point B1 in Rosh Ha’Nikra all the way to the occupied Shebaa Farms. Hochstein was clear that Tel Aviv was rushing to conclude an agreement that would exchange the evacuation of the northern town of Ghajar for the removal of the two tents that Hezbollah had set up in the occupied Shebaa Farms area. He was also very frank in talking about the ‘great embarrassment’ facing the Israeli army due to its inability to remove the two tents by force, and its desire to end this crisis, even if the cost is continuing to address the outstanding ground points.”
The meeting between Hochstein and Prime Minister Najib Mikati was held in the government palace, and included a Hezbollah representative.