Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett poses in front of a map of the Middle East.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday expressed his disapproval of the agreement being formed between Israel and Lebanon regarding the marking of the maritime border between the countries, News 13 reported. Among other things, Bennet said in talks he held Monday that the agreement is different from what had been presented to his cabinet. Much like former US Ambassador David Friedman, Bennett points out that, unlike the previous version, in this one Lebanon gets everything (Netanyahu: Lapid’s Gas Deal a Surrender to Hezbollah, We Are Not Bound by It).

Bennett held several discussions on Monday, examining the agreement in terms of security and political aspects, and he will share his conclusions in the next cabinet meeting immediately following Yom Kippur this week. As alternate prime minister, he has veto rights in the Lapid government, but he may not need to use them in light of the legal proceedings being conducted against the agreement.

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Among other things, Bennett said the original agreement instituted an official and recognized border line between Israel and Lebanon, but the agreement being presented now by Lapid and Gantz only talks about a status quo.

Senior government officials told News 13 that Bennet was aware of the principle outline according to which Israel would give up ownership of the Kana gas reservoir, but would receive royalties from the company that would produce the gas there. They wondered why Bennett changed his position precisely when the deal is about to come through. They also noted that the government is conducting financial simulations to be presented to the cabinet in its post-Yom Kippur session, on the income that Israel would receive from the company operating the Lebanese rig.

Ambassador Friedman and Israeli journalist Barak Raviv dueled on Twitter on Monday over the new agreement. Friedman tweeted:

We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel. Would love to understand how we got here.
I could be wrong, but I think Israel does get zero. My understanding is that Israel gets royalties only on drilling within its own sovereign territory — that’s beyond the scope of the maritime dispute with Lebanon. As to the disputed territory, I understand Lebanon gets it all.

Ravid replied:

1st – Israel doesn’t get zero.
2nd – the situation on the ground changed in the last two years.
3rd – the Israeli government’s policy changed.
4th – the framework of the deal changed from discussing territory to discussing revenue.

It’s true, but Ravid, like Lapid et al, leaped elegantly over the fact that while Israel may or may not receive royalties from a Lebanese rig that is yet to be pinpointed and dug, Lebanon has already expanded its maritime border several miles south of its previous location. That’s a net gain for the enemy.

Prime Minister Lapid for his part turned to the age-old strategy of “when in doubt – lie through your teeth.” In this case, Lapid revealed in an interview with Kikar Hashabbat that he discussed the deal with Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, the former Energy Minister who handled the talks under Netanyahu. Steinitz issued a statement saying: “I have not seen the details of the agreement. The conversation with Lapid was about the Iranian issue.”

The Attorney General has yet to issue her final opinion on which forum should ratify the agreement: would a cabinet approval be sufficient, or would it require a Knesset vote? Meanwhile, Lapid’s ministers––in addition to Bennett––have been voicing their objections to the deal. Lapid is between the rock and the hard place: the Knesset is unlikely to ratify his agreement on the eve of the elections; and in the cabinet, he would face an almost certain veto from Bennett.

And that’s even before Lebanon has signed off on the deal. At the moment, it appears it is going to demand even more, and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah would be only too happy to bang the war drums.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.