It looks like we have finally arrived at the point in history where Israel and Lebanon have agreed to delineate the maritime border. It is especially significant as both countries do not have diplomatic relationships and, technically, are still in a state of war. The deal states that Lebanon will get its demand of Line 23 and Israel will receive its demands of Line 1 between the shore and five kilometres at sea.
Today, the government almost unanimously voted in favour of the proposed agreement, with one minister abstaining. The next step in the process is for the Knesset to review it, though they will not be able to vote on it. It has to be noted that there is a chance of the Supreme Court having a final say in this matter due to the fact that there is no parliamentary vote involved in such a pivotal agreement. According to sources involved in negotiations, Israel has agreed to give up several hundred square kilometres of commercial seas. Except in the event that a subsequent agreement is made between the countries, the line of buoys shall be accepted as the maritime border’s status quo.
In light of this, Mickey Levy, the speaker of the Knesset and a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, announced that he would call the plenum so that MKs could quickly assess the agreement. He noted the gravity of the matter and the cabinet secretary’s request for a meeting of the Knesset during the break for the Jewish High Holidays. This is due to a law passed in 2014 that deals with any plan to transfer territory inside the borders of the State of Israel to another country. According to it, when such case emerges, it will require Knesset’s majority of 61 votes, followed by a referendum. Alternatively, it must be approved by the legislative body with a supermajority of 80 votes.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Yair Lapid made it clear that the agreement exclusively covers Israel’s offshore Exclusive Economic Zone and not any other sovereign territory.
In addition, Israeli defence leaders spoke in favour of the agreement during the security cabinet meeting, claiming that it did not benefit the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. One of the reasons is that, if they approve this marine agreement, they will effectively be acknowledging Israel and its borders, which they vowed never to do.
Ironically, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party, reiterated his opposition to the maritime border agreement with Lebanon, calling it a “historic surrender” that funds Hezbollah and permits Iranian participation in Qana gas field.
On the positive side, however, according to diplomatic sources, the agreement will bring about regional strategic stability and permit Lebanon to construct a rig in its territorial waters. Essentially, this will result in both countries working on the same gas field, as Israel already has a gas rig in Karish.
Finally, this is not the first time when Israel gave away territory to a neighbouring country for the sake of peace. Back in March of 1979 Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Its principal provisions included reciprocal recognition, an end to the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, normalization of relations, and Israel’s withdrawal of its troops and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had taken during the 1967 Six-Day War. Since then, this deal has withstood the test of time and has guaranteed peace along Israel’s southern border.
At this stage, we can only hope that this new maritime agreement with Lebanon will result in a more enduring form of cooperation between the two nations and finally lead to the signing of a permanent peace treaty.