Lebanon said to object to key points in maritime border deal with Israel

Report claims Beirut won’t accept Israel’s buoy-marked border, opposes joint signing ceremony; senior Israeli official says PM Lapid won’t compromise on national interests

Lebanese protesters take part in a demonstration in the border town of Naqoura, on June 11, 2022, days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into the offshore Karish field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon. (Mahmoud Zayyat/ AFP)
Lebanese protesters take part in a demonstration in the border town of Naqoura, on June 11, 2022, days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into the offshore Karish field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon. (Mahmoud Zayyat/ AFP)

Lebanese authorities have crucial reservations about several key points of a US-brokered proposal to solve a maritime border dispute with Israel, Lebanese media reported on Tuesday.

Citing unnamed government officials, the pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Akhbar reported that Beirut did not agree to recognize Israel’s buoy-marked boundary — which Jerusalem unilaterally placed five kilometers off of the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra in 2000 — as an international border.

The report claims Israel’s northern neighbor is also against the idea of demarcating a land border as part of the agreement, and insists that the issue must instead be reserved for discussions with the United Nations.

Furthermore, Beirut wants the French Total Energy company to work with Lebanon independently from its work with Israel, likely taking issue with the reported compensation Israel will receive from energy companies in exchange for giving up rights to the Qana offshore gas field.

Finally, Lebanon reportedly objects to a proposed signing ceremony alongside Israeli officials in the Lebanese city of Naqoura. Instead, officials countered that a deal should be signed with officials from the two sides in separate rooms, since Israel and Lebanon do not have any diplomatic relations and are technically at war.

Over the weekend, the Biden administration’s energy envoy Amos Hochstein presented what is believed to be a final proposal aimed at addressing competing claims over offshore gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea — which initially seemed to be welcomed by both sides.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun, right, meets with US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, at the presidential palace, in Beirut, Lebanon, September 9, 2022. (Dalati Nohra, Lebanon’s official government photographer, via AP)

In response to the Lebanese reports, a senior official close to Prime Minister Yair Lapid told reporters Tuesday that the government was awaiting the official Lebanon response to the latest outline before deciding how to react.

“Lapid will not compromise on the security and economic interests of Israel,” the official added.

Although full details of the agreement have not been made public, diplomats familiar with the matter say that the proposal recognizes Israel’s buoy-marked border, and after that, the border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23.

The deal is said to allow Lebanon to enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana gas field, while Israel will remain in control of the Karish gas field.

The deal has come under fire from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who labeled the agreement “illegal” and accused Lapid on Monday of giving up “sovereign territory of Israel,” vowing that a potential future coalition led by him “won’t be bound by it.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid flies over the Karish gas field on July 19, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Earlier Monday, Lapid charged that the former prime minister was discussing the matter “without seeing the deal and without knowing what’s in it.”

He also accused Netanyahu of taking out his frustrations “on not reaching a deal during his 10 years in office” by parroting propaganda from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Last month, Lapid’s office vowed Israel would go ahead and extract gas from Karish with or without any final deal on the maritime border dispute.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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