Lapid praises ‘historic’ deal with Lebanon to settle maritime dispute

The prime minister said the deal “will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy.”

By Debbie Reiss, World Israel News

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday morning said Israel and Lebanon had settled a “historic” deal that will “inject billions into Israel’s economy” and resolve a long-running maritime border dispute, after the final draft of the U.S.-brokered agreement met Israeli demands.

“This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border,” Lapid said in a statement.

Hours earlier, Eyal Hulata, head of the national security council and lead negotiator in the maritime talks, said the final U.S.-drafted agreement meets all Israel’s demands.

“All our demands were met, the changes that we asked for were corrected. We protected Israel’s security interests and are on our way to an historic agreement,” Hulata said in a statement.

His comments came on the heels of similar remarks made by Lebanon’s chief negotiator, Bou Saab, who said that the latest draft ironed out previous issues and could lead to a “historic deal.”

“If everything goes well, Amos Hochstein’s efforts could imminently lead to a historic deal,” Saab told Reuters, referring to the Biden administration’s envoy who has served as mediator between Israel and Lebanon in a months-long attempt at shuttle diplomacy to resolve the dispute.

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The deal would pave the way for the extraction and production of energy from the offshore Karish gas field, which has been the subject of a fierce disagreement over the two nations’ maritime borders.

Due to Lebanon’s refusal to recognize Israel, the two countries never agreed on a formal demarcation of their maritime borders. The issue had little significance until the discovery of the gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years.

Israel has stated that Karish is entirely within Israeli waters, but Lebanon — which is currently suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis — claims that the gas field is partially located within its territorial waters.

Just last week, it seemed that the deal would not happen after Lapid rejected proposed amendments by the Lebanese government, with Israeli government sources insisting that Jerusalem refused to compromise its security.

The news came after reports emerged that Israel’s chief negotiator, Ehud Adiri, was said to have resigned over his opposition to the terms of the agreement and the way Haluta was handling the talks.

According to Israeli sources, Israel refused a Lebanese amendment on the “buoy boundary” – a five-kilometer (3 miles) length of border off Israel’s northern coast which Israel demarcated in 2000. The current draft will see international recognition of the Israeli-delineated buoy line.

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The second change Lebanon sought involves the Qana gas field, which saw Beirut refusing to compensate Israel for any gas extracted there.

Despite the announcement, it is unclear if the deal will be signed by the October 20 deadline because of a ruling by the High Court of Justice. It said that Lapid’s caretaker government must respond to a petition calling for a Knesset vote on the deal on the basis that an interim government cannot approve it during an election period.