Maritime Deal Moves Forward; Israeli Approval Process Unclear

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Monday. (Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS )

YERUSHALAYIM/PARIS (Reuters/Hamodia) – A senior Israeli official was in Paris on Monday for talks with TotalEnergies about potential future profit-sharing from exploration by the company in a natural gas field off Israel and Lebanon, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Prospects for the Qana field, long disputed by the neighboring countries which are technically at war, have been at the heart of U.S.-mediated efforts to demarcate a maritime border between them.

A draft deal that both countries have given preliminary nods to would entail Israel getting partial royalties from future commercial exploration under Lebanese license in Qana, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Sunday.

Lebanon will send its comments on a U.S. proposal to delineate its maritime border with Israel to the American official mediating talks by Tuesday, a top Lebanese official said on Monday.

U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Hochstein sent a written draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Meanwhile in Israel, the process for approval of such a deal was undergoing clarification.

The High Court on Monday directed the government to respond by October 27 to a petition demanding that the deal under discussion come to a vote in the Knesset.

The petition was filed by the Lavi organization for citizens’ rights, which argues that because the current government has only caretaker status, with elections slated for November 1, parliamentary approval is required.

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara reportedly backed away from support for authorizing the security cabinet to authorize the agreement without the participation of the full government or the Knesset.

In the light of criticism over the last 24 hours, according to Globes, Baharav-Miara has told associates that she has since reconsidered, and that the security cabinet alone cannot rule on it. If so, it would mean reneging on an oral commitment that she made to Lapid and which he, in turn, announced publicly.

It also emerged that five of the seven deputy attorneys general were working on formulating a position on the matter when they learned via the press that Baharav-Miara had already given Lapid her opinion.

Baharav-Miara’s position is now that the agreement needs to be approved by the government and laid before the Knesset.

Globes said that no response was obtainable from the attorney general apart from a referral to the press release issued yesterday stating that she had not yet formulated an opinion on the way in which the agreement should be approved.

In addition, in the event that the final agreement entails a change of borders, Israeli law requires that the matter must be put before the public in a referendum, something that has so far been avoided in the discussion.

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