BEIRUT: Israel on Thursday rejected revisions sought by Lebanon to a US-brokered border demarcation proposal, calling into question years of diplomatic efforts to allow the two countries to extract gas in a disputed part of the Mediterranean.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Lebanon’s revisions to the agreement with Israel guarantee Lebanon’s rights to search for oil and gas in specified fields in the exclusive economic zone.
He added that Lebanon’s revisions preclude any interpretation that does not apply to the framework Lebanon specified for the demarcation process during indirect negotiations led by US mediator Amos Hochstein, which lasted several months.
Israel announced on Thursday that it was rejecting Lebanon’s requested amendments to the US proposal.
A Lebanese official said: “Lebanon will consult with Hochstein whether Israel has rejected the amendments in whole or in part, or whether it simply has its own comments on the proposal.”
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab, who is following negotiations with Hochstein, said he was contacting him hourly to resolve outstanding issues.
Reuters quoted an Israeli official as saying Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid “has been briefed on the details of the substantial changes Lebanon is seeking to make to the deal and asked the negotiating team to reject them.”
According to the Israeli media, Tel Aviv will not give up its security and economic interests, even if it means that there will be no agreement soon.
“Israel will produce gas from the Karish platform as soon as it is possible to do so. If Hezbollah or anyone tries to damage Karish’s platform or threaten us, the shipping line negotiations will stop immediately,” the Israeli official warned, mentioning: “Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, will have to explain to the Lebanese why they have no gas field and no economic future.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned: “The Lebanese state will pay a heavy military price in the event of an attack by Hezbollah and the maritime border demarcation agreement with Lebanon will harm Iran’s interests. .”
Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in a fierce political battle ahead of Israel’s legislative elections, scheduled for early November.
“Intense pressure from my friends and I caused Lapid to withdraw from the deal that would have ceded Israel’s rights to Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli media quoted Netanyahu as saying: “Israel needs a different leadership, an experienced and strong prime minister who stands up to pressure,” adding, “We will not let Israel surrender to Nasrallah.”
The US proposal was initially welcomed by Israel and Lebanon, until the latter suggested some revisions during a Monday meeting between Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and interim Prime Minister Najib. Mikati, and hand them over to the US Ambassador to Beirut, Dorothy Shea.
According to Israeli media, the main sticking point was over the recognition of a line of demarcation buoys that Israel has set up at sea from its shores.
Lebanon reiterated that the so-called line of buoys makes no sense and does not exist.
Lebanese media reported that Lebanon asked “to cross out the expression ‘Blue Line’ when discussing borders, and to emphasize that Lebanon adheres to its international borders.”
Lebanon also suggested renaming the “possible southern Sidon reservoir” to “the Sidon-Qana field”, and clarified that this field will be “developed by Lebanon and for the benefit of Lebanon”.
Regarding the companies that will operate in the offshore fields, the American proposal stipulates that they “will not be subject to American sanctions”, but Lebanon asked to replace this sentence with “be subject to international sanctions”.
The American proposal also stated that “Israel does not object to the measures taken in the field of Cana on the side beyond line 23”. Lebanon requested that the phrase be changed to “Israel does not and will not oppose” as a future safeguard.
Lebanon objected to the term “financial compensation” and said that if there is a financial settlement between the operating company and Israel, then “Lebanon is not interested.”
Among Lebanon’s other demands was the modification of the phrase “the United States will help facilitate the work of gas extraction companies after the agreement”, asking the United States to facilitate the work of gas extraction companies gas “directly and quickly” once an agreement with Israel is reached.
There was no immediate response from Hezbollah on the new Israeli position. Nasrallah had said over the weekend that Hezbollah supported the official Lebanese position on the issue of maritime borders and oil and gas rights.
This text is the translation of an article published on Arabnews.com
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