Back to square one as Israel to reject Lebanon’s changes to maritime deal

Back to square one as Israel to reject Lebanon’s changes to maritime deal
A senior Israeli official said the 'substantial changes' were to be rejected by the negotiating team.
2 min read
06 October, 2022
Israel's rejection is a blow to the sense of optimism around the deal, which seemed imminent just days before. [Getty]

Israel's PM said on Thursday that it will reject changes proposed by Lebanon to a deal to settle maritime borders between the two countries, potentially scuttling years of negotiations.

A senior official told AFP that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid that he was "updated on the details of the substantial changes Lebanon is seeking to make" and that he told Israeli negotiators to reject them.

The official further added that if Hezbollah should take any military action against Israel for exploiting the disputed Karish gas field, that negotiations would be halted.

The move is a blow to the maritime negotiations, which in recent days, seemed imminent. Lebanese officials held a flurry of meetings and expressed optimism that the deal could be signed "within days".

"Now we have to see the reaction of the Lebanese government and the role of the mediator. It will depend on how the US mediator will proceed," Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert, told The New Arab.

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The on-and-off-again negotiations have occurred for over a decade, as the two countries sought to delineate their maritime border. At stake is potentially billions of dollars of offshore natural gas deposits.

Lebanon in particular is eager to exploit its natural gas resources as a source of much-needed revenue during its economic crisis. It could also provide power for the country, which currently provides up to two hours of electricity per day from its national power grid.

Both countries are currently heading into election season, with Lebanon looking to pick a new president and Israel a new government.

"Time is of the essence. On 31 October, it is the last day of the mandate of the [Lebanese] president. On the Israeli side on 1 November, they have elections. If Netanyahu wins the elections, he is not happy with the current proposal, so the deal might be delayed," Haytayan said. 

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Pro-Iran militia Hezbollah has threatened that if Israel goes ahead and exploits any disputed gas fields, it could use military action. In turn, the Israeli military has promised full retaliation.

In 2013, both countries were close to reaching a compromise on the maritime borders, but Lebanon rejected the deal at the last minute due to what it saw as unfair terms.

In the latest round of negotiations, the two parties focused on a so-called "resource-centric" approach rather than carving up territory. The latest proposal reportedly sought to preserve the integrity of entire gas fields, so as to limit future contact and conflict between the two countries.