Lapid defends Lebanon deal as top negotiator’s resignation revealed

The deal will have Israel concede the entire triangle of economic waters that had been in dispute with Lebanon from 2012-2021.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting on 10/02/2022. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting on 10/02/2022.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

The resignation of Israel’s top negotiator of its maritime dispute with Lebanon in frustration with the Prime Minister’s Office handling of the talks came to light on Monday, as Prime Minister Yair Lapid defended the deal from critics.

Udi Adiri, former Energy Ministry director-general and the lead negotiator with Lebanon over the economic waters dispute in recent years, resigned last week, days before US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein made his final proposal for an agreement, The Marker first reported. 

Amid reports that Adiri opposed the agreement that was being drafted and was frustrated by how National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata conducted the talks after the responsibility for them was moved to the Prime Minister’s Office, he tweeted a more mundane reason.

"I have no desire or intention to get into the political controversy surrounding the agreement with Lebanon," he wrote. "I will only say that I had the great privilege of heading the negotiating team...I left the team recently to go on vacation and start a new job. To the best of my understanding, the agreement is fully consistent with the professional position as presented to the decision-makers."

Lapid countered criticism of the agreement, which the PMO views as close to final, on Twitter.

  Karish gas field, located in Israel territory and disputed by Lebanon.  (credit: ENERGEAN) Karish gas field, located in Israel territory and disputed by Lebanon. (credit: ENERGEAN)

Lapid countered criticism of the agreement, which the PMO views as close to final, on twitter.

“Israel receives 100% of its security needs, 100% of the Karish Reservoir and even some of the earnings from the Lebanese reservoir,” Lapid tweeted. 

Though Lapid sought to mention it as an achievement, throughout the negotiations and as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened Karish in recent months, Lapid, Energy Minister Karin Elharrar and their offices consistently said that the Israeli reservoir was not part of the negotiations.

“I understand your pain that you did not succeed in reaching an agreement like this, but this is no reason to join Nasrallah’s propaganda,” Lapid added, addressing his remarks to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. “You can give some credit to the government that works and brings results for Israel.”

Netanyahu continued to rail against the deal in a press conference at Likud headquarters, saying that it is an expression of the government's weakness that it is "surrendering to Hezbollah."

"His surrender agreement is illegal and will not oblige us," Netanyahu said. "Lapid gave Hezbollah all that Hezbollah demanded...Nasrallah is receiving Israeli sovereign territory and a gas field that is worth billions. He will not build hospitals and preschools with that money; he will use that money to arm himself with missiles and rockets against us."

It remains unclear how much gas, if any, is in the relevant area of the Mediterranean and how much it is worth.

A source close to Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he was still assessing the agreement and formulating his opinion on it.

Hochstein’s proposal is set to be brought to the Security Cabinet for approval on Thursday.

However, there may still be changes to the agreement. Lebanese Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Elias Bou Saab said his country “has comments about the draft…Our answer will be given within 48 hours.”

“The atmosphere is very positive and it is clear that the other side recognizes that Lebanon achieved more,” Bou Saab stated.

The current draft of the deal will have Israel concede the entire triangle of economic waters that had been in dispute with Lebanon in 2012-2021, but not the extended triangle that Lebanon demanded in early 2021. It will also allow Lebanon to develop the entire Kana Field, which extends South into what would be Israeli waters.

Israel meets with Total Energy officials

If Total Energy, which has the Lebanese license to develop Kana, finds and extracts gas from the reservoir, it will have to pay Israel royalties for the percentage of the gas in its economic waters. 

Energy Ministry Director-General Lior Schillat was at Total headquarters in France on Monday to negotiate the royalties agreement, Reuters reported. 

France, a major stakeholder in Total, and the US, which conducted the talks, would be their guarantors.

In addition, the deal includes formalizing the long-extant “buoys line,” a 5-km. security line of buoys Israel placed in the Mediterranean Sea extending from its border with Lebanon.

The High Court of Justice ordered the state to respond to a petition by October 27 from the NGO Lavi against the impending natural gas deal between Israel and Lebanon.

It was unclear when the High Court would actually hold a hearing on the issue and the justices rejected Lavi's request for an interim injunction freezing any further progress toward the deal.

The Kohelet Policy Forum has also filed a petition against the deal.

A number of legal issues have been raised, such as the role of the Knesset in such a deal and whether a referendum must be held as in certain cases in which the government might negotiate waiving its rights to certain land-based territory.

The Government is expected to argue that it is negotiating over economic rights to waters off the coast which are different from actual land, and therefore not sovereign territory.

The High Court generally declines to rule on such issues before a deal is finalized, such that it might view the petitions as premature until the deal comes before the Knesset or some operative and concrete move is about to take place.

In addition, the justices tend to stay out of diplomatic decisions unless an explicit law is violated.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said on Monday that, when complete, the agreement would be submitted to the Knesset. 

Sa’ar’s statement came in response to MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orit Struck (Religious Zionist), who asked for clarifications following reports that Lapid planned to circumvent the legislature and keep the agreement confidential. 

According to law, the agreement needs only to be submitted to the Knesset and not put to a parliamentary vote. 

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, however, called for a vote, tweeting that “such an important agreement absolutely cannot pass without approval from the real sovereign and that is the Knesset…The Israeli public has the right to know the details of the agreement…Everything must be fully transparent.”