Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Sunday received a phone call from the American mediator, Amos Hochstein, briefing him on the results of the recent rounds of contacts with the Lebanese side on one hand, and the Israeli side on the other, the Lebanese news agency NNA reported, and, according to Reuters, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab, the Lebanese lead negotiator, announced late Monday night that “If everything goes well, Amos Hochstein’s efforts could imminently lead to a historic deal.”
Bou Saab confirmed that the latest version “takes into consideration all of Lebanon’s requirements and we believe that the other side should feel the same.”
National Security Council Director and head of Israel’s negotiating team Dr. Eyal Hulata on Tuesday morning issued a statement saying: “All our demands were met, the changes that we asked for were corrected. We protected Israel’s security interests and are on our way to an historic agreement.”
Now it remains to be seen if the Lapid government would be brazen enough to push the latest draft through before the November 1 elections.
In Israel’s view, Lebanon is entitled to the yet-to-be-explored Qana gas field, located north of the maritime border between the two countries (line 23), while Israel intends to start exploiting the Karish offshore gas field, south of the maritime border. Lebanon insisted that Israel must not start using Karish––which is real, before Lebanon starts drawing gas from Qana––which so far exists only hypothetically. In keeping with Israel’s view, on Sunday, Energean began testing pipes connecting Karish to Israel’s shoreline.
The latest US draft agreement that was leaked to the press last week says that all of Karish falls under Israeli control, while Qana’s exploitation would be under Lebanon’s control, but the French company Total would pay Israel a share of future revenue. The Lebanese objected to this draft, and, apparently, Hochstein came through for them on Monday.
The line of demarcation buoys separating Israel’s and Lebanon’s maritime areas. / GPOAl Akhbar on Tuesday morning offered a dramatic description of Monday’s events: “Only five minutes from midnight last night, Lebanon officially received the final draft of the demarcation agreement … to solve the last knot that had arisen regarding the Qana field, and the confusion between the two phrases ‘status quo,’ and ‘fait accompli’ concerning the line of demarcation buoys according to the Lebanese formula. A copy of the draft was sent to the enemy entity, where it is assumed that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid will convene a ministerial meeting to approve it.”
According to Al Akhbar, the French side informed Lebanon shortly after midnight Tuesday, that Total is committed to starting the exploration work as soon as the agreement is announced, and that it would bring in ships, rigs, and equipment for this purpose by the beginning of 2023.
Even before midnight, messages were cascading between Washington, Beirut, and Jerusalem, as Hochstein, along with an American legal and technical team, was communicating in Lebanon with negotiator Bou Saab, and in Israel with National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and a team representing Israel’s security establishment and the Ministry of Energy.