The Lebanon maritime border agreement announced by Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday still faces a number of political and legal hurdles that may make it difficult to push the deal through ahead of the November 1 election.
After the agreement was discussed in the Security Cabinet on Thursday, it will be presented to the full cabinet on Wednesday. The cabinet will then decide on whether or not to put the deal to a vote in the Knesset, or only put it on the Knesset floor for its review.
At a Security Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara laid out both possibilities, a government source confirmed. Legally, the government can suffice with laying the agreement on the Knesset floor, where it must remain for review for two weeks. The agreement then returns to the cabinet, with the Knesset's comments and caveats. The cabinet does not need to accept the comments. It would then vote to ratify the deal.
The Knesset plenum is rarely convened during the Sukkot holiday, and may only receive the agreement for review after the holiday ends, next Tuesday, October 18. This would be the first day out of 14, meaning that the agreement's final ratification would be on October 31 – less than 24 hours before voting booths open.
Should the Knesset open on Wednesday to receive the agreement, it could be ratified in the cabinet from October 25 onwards.
The second option provided by Baharav-Miara was to bring the agreement to the Knesset floor for a vote. The vote can be held after a debate and does not need to wait two weeks. Since the current government is an interim government, and since the legality of the procedure is expected to be challenged in the High Court, Baharav-Miara said that this was her preferred option. Lapid reportedly prefers the first option, as he does not want to risk the agreement failing to pass the Knesset, according to a report by Globes.
The procedural issue may also affect the cabinet's eventual vote on the agreement itself. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked stated that she would vote against the maritime border demarcation agreement with Lebanon if it is not brought for a vote in the Knesset on Tuesday.
"Every significant agreement in recent generations has been brought to the Knesset for approval with the understanding that on significant issues it is necessary to return to the sovereign," read a statement from Shaked's office. "All the more so in a situation of a government without the confidence of the Knesset."
Another hurdle appeared on Tuesday after the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum and an organization called Lavi filed a motion to the High Court of Justice demanding a temporary order to halt the proceedings to approve the deal. The argument was that the government is breaking the law since any cessation of Israeli sovereignty requires a referendum, and failing to do so would create a "constitutional mishap and heavy damage."
High Court justice David Mintz required the State to respond by 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. If the agreement does end up being delayed due to legal challenges, it is not clear whether it will end up being signed, with the November 1 election, which also marks the end of Aoun's presidency in Lebanon, fast approaching.
Labor party leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, "The government's most significant achievement: restoring quiet to the south after a decade of missile fire. The agreement with Lebanon will also strengthen our security on the northern border. It's not for nothing that the security establishment supports the agreement.
ההישג המשמעותי ביותר של הממשלה: החזרת השקט לדרום, אחרי עשור של ירי טילים. ההסכם עם לבנון יחזק את הביטחון שלנו גם בגבול הצפון. לא בכדי מערכת הביטחון סומכת ידה על ההסכם.ומילה לנתניהו: הגיע הזמן שתנהג באחריות למען ביטחון המדינה.— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) October 11, 2022
"And a word for Netanyahu: It's about time you acted responsibly when it comes to national security," Michaeli wrote.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On wrote on Twitter, "I bless Prime Minister Lapid on the deal with Lebanon. It is good that he did not give in to all of the warmongers. Meretz's ministers will support the deal in the Cabinet. A first step for peace."
מברכת את ראש הממשלה לפיד על ההסכם עם לבנון. טוב שלא נכנע לכל מחרחרי המלחמה. שרי מרצ יתמכו בהסכם בקבינט. צעד ראשון לשלום️— זהבה גלאון (@zehavagalon) October 11, 2022
On Monday evening, Culture and Sports Minister Chili Troper published a rare post on Facebook attacking Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for his opposition to the deal.
"Anyone who thinks the truth matters should be worried. Anyone who disapproves of lies, certainly from the mouths of elected officials, should be disturbed. A culture of lies is developing here, which in recent days has even reached the realm of Israel's security. Red lines keep on being crossed.
"You can support the government and you can oppose it. You can support a maritime delineation agreement with Lebanon and you can oppose it. But in life, you can't lie over and over again. Or, as it turns out, you can.
"Security officials agree unanimously that the basic outline of the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon is good for Israel's security, will save Israeli lives and improve our strategic situation significantly. Yes, this is the case. Unequivocally. I listened to their lengthy reviews and analysis of their intelligence materials. They left no room for doubt. You can also disagree with security officials, but you have to back up your positions with data, facts, and information.
"There are those who quote [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and release videos that [the deal] is bad for Israel. I sat in the Security Cabinet last Thursday with the chief of staff, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet and a number of other security officials, and they said it was good for Israel. I believe in our security personnel. It is sad that there are those who choose, for political reasons, to echo our enemies.
"A political struggle is not a license for recklessness. It is sad that those who do not know the clauses of the agreement, are not exposed to the intelligence material and did not listen to our security personnel, allowing themselves to spread empty slogans, false information and so on.
"This is ignorance or lies, or a combined cocktail of both. And it's bad for anyone who believes in fairness and honesty.
"When did it become legitimate to lie so blatantly? And in the name of what concern for the security of the country? Let's start by getting to know the facts, reading the data and listening to the position of the heads of the Israeli security establishment instead of echoing the lies of the enemy, and then we will believe those who claim that Israel's security is at the forefront of their minds," Tropper concluded.
Other MK's don't like the deal that was made
On the other side, however, MKs attacked the deal.
MK Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit wrote in a statement, "Beyond the fact that this is a shameful surrender, it is an illegal agreement. The law states that the transfer of territories from the sovereignty of the state to foreign sovereignty must go through a referendum, or with the approval of 80 members of the Knesset.
"In the current situation, Lapid and Gantz are attempting a coup bypassing the agreement that includes the transfer of sovereign territories from Israel to Lebanon, based on a decision of an interim government on the eve of elections. We will not allow this coup to happen - and we will submit an urgent petition to the Supreme Court demanding that it stop the illegal agreement immediately," Ben Gvir wrote.
Likud candidate and former UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement, "The emerging agreement with Lebanon is bad for Israel. Lapid's political amateurism will cost Israel dearly. Hezbollah will use billions of [income from] the gas to arm itself with missiles and rockets against the citizens of Israel, and Iran will position itself in front of Rosh Hanikra [on the border with Lebanon] and in front of Israel's gas reserves.
"This weak and amateur interim government has no mandate to make such a dangerous decision behind our backs, just days before the election."
Danon later added in an interview on Channel 13, "Why is Lapid afraid to bring the agreement to the Knesset? At the time, we brought the Abraham Accords to the Knesset for approval.
"I doubt if the agreement will be signed in the end. From my knowledge of the region, [the] surrender will lead to additional demands that will emerge soon in order to squeeze more concessions from Lapid," Danon added.