Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday that Beirut has formally accepted a US-mediated maritime border deal with Israel.
“I announce the approval by Lebanon of the final version prepared by the American mediator to delineate the southern maritime border,” the Lebanese president said in a televised speech.
After months of talks mediated by US envoy Amos Hochstein between Lebanon and Israel — which have no diplomatic ties and are technically in a state of war — the two nations agreed to a final text of the deal earlier this week.
On Wednesday, Israel’s cabinet voted to back the principles of the deal and send it to the Knesset for a two-week review period. Following that, the cabinet will vote once again to fully ratify the terms of the agreement.
Aoun stressed in his speech on Thursday that “no normalization with Israel took place.” He also maintained that the “indirect agreement responds to Lebanese demands and maintains all our rights.”
The president of the cash-strapped country described the deal as a “historic achievement,” adding that “Lebanon did not concede a single square kilometer to Israel,” and lauding Lebanon’s full control over the Qana field.
Aoun made the announcement hours after meeting with caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker Nabih Berri, who had received copies of Hochstein’s latest iteration of the agreement earlier this week.
Lebanon hopes that demarcating maritime borders will pave the way for gas exploration to help lift it out of its crippling economic crisis.
“I hope the end of these negotiations is the promising start to placing the cornerstone for the economic growth that Lebanon needs through extracting oil and gas,” Aoun said. “Which would add stability, security, and development that our nation Lebanon needs.”
While Lebanon refuses to recognize the existence of the State of Israel, Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Ushpiz said Thursday that he believes a joint public ceremony marking the agreement will be held.
Ushpiz told the Kan public broadcaster that such a ceremony would include “choreography like the Americans know how to do.”
Announcing the deal on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the agreement would “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border.”
The deal is intended to end a long-running dispute over some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, covering the Karish and the Qana gas fields.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel will receive recognition for its buoy-marked boundary five kilometers (3.1 miles) off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra, which it established in 2000. After that, Israel’s border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23.
Lebanon will enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana gas field, while Israel will move ahead with its plans to imminently begin gas production at the Karish field.
Lapid said Thursday that under the agreed terms, Israel “will receive approximately 17% of the revenues from the Lebanese gas field, the Qana-Sidon field, if and when they will open it.”
The prime minister also said that the deal “staves off” a potential war with Hezbollah, and denied claims by opposition figures that it would funnel money to the Lebanese terror group.
“This deal secures the energy security of the State of Israel and will bring in billions in revenue that every family in Israel will benefit from,” Lapid said.
Lazar Berman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.