High Court rejects petitions against Lebanon maritime deal, paving way for approval

The justices’ unanimous dismissal of the arguments against the maritime border agreement means the government will be able to formally okay the deal later this week

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Israeli Minister of Energy Karin Elharar hold a press conference on the maritime border deal with Lebanon, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and Israeli Minister of Energy Karin Elharar hold a press conference on the maritime border deal with Lebanon, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice has rejected all four petitions against the government’s maritime border agreement with Lebanon, clearing the path for the cabinet to approve the deal later this week.

The court issued its decision Sunday morning, stating that the three justices presiding over the case had decided unanimously to reject the petitions, but did not immediately publish the reasoning behind the decision.

An explanation for the ruling will be issued separately, the court said.

Having submitted the agreement to the Knesset for its review — but not for its approval or rejection — on October 12, the cabinet will be able to vote on formal approval either this Wednesday or Thursday.

On Thursday, the High Court heard oral arguments against the agreement relating to the four petitions submitted against it, including from right-wing organizations Lavi and Kohelet Forum, as well as Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir.

The three justices hearing the case, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Vice President Uzi Vogelman, and Justice Noam Sohlberg, all expressed skepticism regarding the validity of the petitions during the hearing.

A High Court of Justice hearing on a petition demanding that the maritime border deal with Lebanon be brought for a Knesset vote, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, October 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kohelet’s petition asserted that since a small part of Israel’s territorial waters would end up on the Lebanese side of the maritime border under the agreement, the deal would require a referendum under the terms of Israel’s Basic Law: Referendum.

Hayut noted, however, that the maritime border had never been legally settled and that it was questionable whether Israel had ever established its legal jurisdiction over these waters, which would mean the referendum law was not applicable.

Lavi’s petition argued that an interim government was obligated by customary Knesset practice to bring international treaties to the Knesset for approval.

But Vogelman voiced skepticism as to whether parliamentary customs could be considered binding, and added that according to the government there were urgent security, diplomatic and economic motivations for signing the deal now based on classified information.

Ben Gvir claimed during his oral argument that negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over the maritime border had collapsed before June 28, when the Knesset was dissolved and elections were called, and only restarted afterwards. He argued therefore that the deal under such circumstances could not be considered legitimate.

Hayut demanded Ben Gvir back up his claim with evidence, but the MK replied that he could not precisely date the renewal of the negotiations. The Supreme Court president reprimanded him for such arguments, saying he could “not just claim random things.”

Ben Gvir said in response to the ruling that it typified “the principle to which the High Court has stuck for years: for a right wing government — intervention on every step. For a left-wing government no intervention in state policy.”

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of International Law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, said the deal amounted to “a lame duck government agreeing to give up the country’s sovereign territory to an enemy state days before an election.”

Kontorovich added that his organization was unaware of “any democratic country where a minority government can cede national territory without any legislative approval, and in the face of a clear constitutional provision.”

The Lavi organization said the court’s decision was “wrong” and that it “unjustifiably permits an interim government, in the last moments of its term of office, to bring about an agreement of capitulation to [Lebanon-based terror group] Hezbollah that endangers Israeli security.”

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