Israel Satisfied with US Proposal on its Maritime Border with Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the proposal of the American mediator for maritime demarcation between Lebanon and Israel.
Israël Yaïr Lapid

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday welcomed the proposal of the U.S. mediator to demarcate the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, two neighbors officially at war who seek to exploit large gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.

The two countries have been negotiating for more than two years, through the intermediary of the United States, the delimitation of their maritime border in order to remove obstacles to the exploration and exploitation of offshore deposits.

The Lebanese presidency had announced on Saturday that it had received a formal proposal from the American mediator, Amos Hochstein.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the armed movement Hezbollah which dominates political life in Lebanon, hailed “a very important step”, welcoming the fact that there is “now a written text” and saying that “the days to come will be crucial”.

On Sunday, the Israeli Prime Minister said he had also received the American proposal and was negotiating “the final details”.

“We cannot yet say that this is a done deal, but we can say that, as we asked from the beginning, the proposal fully protects Israel’s security, diplomatic and economic interests,” Lapid told the cabinet.

“For more than ten years, Israel has been trying to reach this agreement. The security of the north (of the country) will be strengthened. The Karish field will come on stream (…) We are not opposed to the development of an additional gas field by Lebanon from which we will receive our fair share,” added Mr. Lapid.

The Lebanese and Israeli authorities have not disclosed the text of the American mediation, but according to the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, the controversial Karish field remains in Israeli hands, while Lebanon would get “the whole of the Qana gas field” although part of it “exceeds” the future demarcation line between the two countries.

The Israeli authorities have indicated that they want to start gas production as soon as possible at Karish, an offshore field operated by the British group Energean.

For its part, the French group Total is being considered to explore and exploit the Qana deposit, senior Israeli officials have told AFP.

– Netanyahu vs. Lapid –

Israel, which considers Tehran as its enemy N.1, believes that a gas agreement will feed the coffers of the Lebanese state and thus “reduce its dependence on Iran”, a key supporter of Hezbollah, said Lapid.

The American proposal is undergoing a “legal review” and will then be submitted to Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for “approval”, insisted the centrist Lapid, who is campaigning for the November 1 legislative elections that could see Benjamin Netanyahu return to power.

“Lapid gives Hezbollah a sovereign territory of the State of Israel with a huge gas field that belongs to you, Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu reacted Sunday in a video posted on social networks, without defining the contours of this “sovereign territory” in
the waters at the border of the two countries.

“Lapid has no legitimacy to give our enemies territories that belong to us (…) He did it without debate in the Knesset (Parliament) and without a referendum,” he added, threatening not to “respect” this possible agreement.

Yair Lapid, who is counting on the Karish field coming on stream in order to boost Israeli gas deliveries to Europe, which is seeking to diversify its supplies, has blasted the comments of his main political rival.

“Netanyahu, you have failed for ten years to reach an agreement. The least you can do is not to undermine Israel’s security interests and not to help Hezbollah with your irresponsible announcements,” the Prime Minister retorted.

Minister Gantz, who aspires to succeed Mr. Lapid in the elections scheduled in less than a month, accused Benjamin Netanyahu “of stirring up Hassan Nasrallah’s propaganda,” and said that a possible agreement would be submitted to Parliament.

On Sunday night, the Justice Department said it was still reviewing the U.S. proposal.

According to a poll commissioned by the Israeli public channel Kan and broadcast this weekend, 43% of Israelis are in favor of a gas agreement with Lebanon, 16% unfavorable and 41% have no opinion on the issue.

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