On Sunday, Israel gave preliminary approval to a draft US-brokered agreement delineating a maritime border with Lebanon, which might lead to profit-sharing from future gas production by Beirut in a long-disputed Mediterranean possibility.
U.S. ambassador Amos Hochstein this week offered a fresh plan that would smooth the way for offshore oil development, hoping to alleviate one source of tension between the adversaries and potentially nudge them toward compromise.
Beirut is reviewing the 10-page document, the contents of which have not yet been made public. The proposal was hailed as a “very important step” by the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, which has battled with Israel and previously expressed reservations about any demarcation agreement.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid informed his cabinet at its weekly meeting that Israeli acceptance of the measure was pending legal assessment.
“But,” he continued in broadcast remarks, “the plan adequately maintains Israel’s national security interests, as well as our economic interests,” he said.
Lapid appeared to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.
“We have no opposition to an additional Lebanese gas field being developed, from which we would of course receive royalties due us,” he said. “Such a field would weaken Lebanese dependency on Iran, restrain Hezbollah and bring regional stability.”
Lapid, a moderate, leads a caretaker government ahead of the November 1 election. His opponent, conservative ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has claimed that the Lebanese agreement might assist Hezbollah and accused Lapid of avoiding parliamentary scrutiny.
Gideon Saar, Lapid’s justice minister, admitted that such settlements would almost always be brought before the Knesset.
Saar, on the other hand, told Kan radio, “There are extraordinary circumstances when – with the approval of the justice minister – the necessary submission is waived. I don’t want to get dragged into this until we have a complete understanding of the situation.”