Photo Credit: Al-Akhbar via Abu Ali Express
Map of Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute. (Pre-Maritime Agreement)

David Friedman, the former US ambassador to Israel, expressed bewilderment over the pending proposal for an agreement on a maritime line between Israel and Lebanon, saying that it appears to entail significant Israeli concessions.

The common Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary is not agreed upon between the two countries. The issue has been under discussion for over a decade. The focus of both sides is the oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters which are under dispute.

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In recent years, the two countries held talks mediated by the US and hosted by the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) at Rosh Hanikra. Amos Hochstein, the Biden administration’s Special Envoy for International Energy, is currently serving as mediator. He has traveled between Jerusalem and Beirut in recent weeks, and while expressing optimism, has not brought any final resolution.

However, Prime Minister Yair Lapid stated during the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday that his government is “discussing the final details, so it is not yet possible to praise a done deal; however, as we have demanded from the start, the proposal safeguards Israel’s full security-diplomatic interests, as well as our economic interests.”

According to reports in the Arabic media, the Karish field, which Israel has recently begun to develop, will remain in Israeli hands, while the nearby Kana field, which is between 1/3 to 1/2 within Israel’s exclusive economic zone will treated as fully within Lebanese territory, an apparent major Israeli concession.

Responding to the report, Freidman tweeted that as ambassador he “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.”

Friedman, who was the ambassador in Israel between 2017-2020, was party to historic achievements, including the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries.

Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to attack Israel several times in recent weeks over the control of the gas fields. However, in an apparent change of tone, Nasrallah stated over the weekend that “the maritime border demarcation file has reached a decisive stage in light of the mediator’s letter,” and that Hezbollah “supports the Lebanese state regarding the talks with the US mediator,” meaning that he is satisfied with the latest proposal.

Senator Ted Cruz said he was “deeply troubled that Biden officials pressured our Israeli allies to hand over their territory to the Iran-controlled terrorist group Hezbollah.”

“Another topic for the next Republican Congress to investigate,” he wrote on Twitter.

The details of the agreement have yet to be published in Israel. Several organizations have said they will challenge Lapid’s move in court, saying that as head of a transitional government, he has no mandate to make such decisions and that a decision on the shaping of Israel’s borders requires a national referendum by law.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.