Israel must legally hold national referendum on any deal with Lebanon: think tank

Israel must legally hold national referendum on any deal with Lebanon: think tank
2 min read
03 August, 2022
An Israeli think tank says Israel must hold a referendum if it reaches any deal with Lebanon on demarcating a hotly contested maritime border
Israel and Lebanon could be close to reaching a deal on their disputed maritime border [Getty]

Israeli law requires the government to conduct a national referendum on any potential agreement reached with Lebanon over a maritime border dispute, a report in The Jerusalem Post said on Wednesday.

A referendum should be held if "the government decided to sign an agreement by which the law, judiciary and administration of Israel will no longer apply to a territory in which they apply," according to Israeli Basic Law, if less than 80 members of the Knesset agree to the territorial change.

The second clause of the law states that the same applies even if the government gives up territory "not in the way of an agreement," meaning unilaterally.

The Jerusalem Post report was quoting Israeli think tank Kohelet Policy Forum.

Lebanon and Israel - still technically at war - are currently in stalled US-mediated negotiations to delineate their maritime borders and end disagreement over potentially rich oil and gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon earlier this week and is expected to return some time this month, with a final "make or break" proposal, according to reports.

"In order to prevent a constitutional problem…we ask to warn about the requirement in a Basic Law for every international agreement in which there is a change in the territory on which Israeli law and administration apply," Kohelet Policy Forum Attorneys Gerber and Ehrlich wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The lawyers said that while the maritime zone being negotiated with Lebanon is beyond Israel’s territorial waters, Israeli law applies to them because they are on the"continental shelf" which Israel also claims.

Hochstein said on Monday he remained optimistic about making progress towards a deal and looked forward to returning to the region to make a "final arrangement".

Tensions between Beirut and Israel escalated in June when a ship arrived in an area deemed part of the disputed zone by Lebanon to begin developing a field for Israel.

The Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group has threatened military action against Israel if Lebanon is prevented from exploiting its offshore rights.