Lebanon says maritime deal with Israel won't involve working relationship

Proposed agreement would give Lebanon all of disputed Qana prospect field

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Lebanon has said that any potential maritime border demarcation with Israel does not constitute a working relationship between the two countries, which technically remain at war and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.

Under the proposed deal — which is still being discussed in Beirut — all of the disputed Qana gasfield would go to Lebanon, a Lebanese source close to the negotiations told The National.

Lebanon's insistence comes following comments by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday in which he claimed Israel would receive revenue from the Lebanese gas reservoir.

“Israel gets 100 per cent of its security needs, 100 per cent of Karish [gasfield] and even some of the profits from the Lebanese reservoir,” he said.

Lebanon and Israel have been in a state of technical warfare since 1948.

A top Israeli energy official was in Paris on Monday for talks with French firm Total over establishing a mechanism through which the company would pay Israel a portion of the royalties from the gas it produces in Qana, Reuters reported.

Total has not been officially named as the firm that would carry out the work in the gasfield, but Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said the company could have a role.

Lebanon’s lead negotiator on the maritime deal, deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab, told reporters that Beirut will send its notes on the US proposal to Washington by “Tuesday at the latest” and hopes to receive a response “before the end of the week”.

“The devils are in the details, but the devils are now small,” Mr Bou Saab said.

Asked for comment about any sort of agreement between Total and Israel, the Lebanese source said it was up to “Total and the Israelis” and had nothing to do with Lebanon.

“As for Lebanon, there is no partnership with the Israelis whatsoever” regarding Qana, the source said.

Mr Aoun had earlier insisted there would be no “no partnership” with Israel.

Israeli officials have also offered an upbeat appraisal of the proposal, but Mr Lapid has come in for criticism from some in his country for his handling of the consultations, with Israel’s chief negotiator reportedly resigning.

Mr Bou Saab made his remarks after a high-level meeting with Mr Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday to discuss US energy envoy Amos Hochstein's offer.

“Things are on the right track,” Mr Mikati said and added that the foundations of the current proposal are sound.

Even Hezbollah, the Iran-backed political party and armed group that has often entered into open conflict with Israel, has offered cautious optimism that a deal could be reached. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened Israel with violence if it begins extracting gas in disputed areas before an agreement is reached.

In June, tension escalated when Israel moved a vessel close to the Karish gasfield, which Lebanon has partially claimed.

It led to a series of visits by Mr Hochstein to the Lebanese and Israeli capitals in a bid to reach a deal.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 4:51 PM
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