Photo Credit: Emil Salman / POOL
President Joe Biden at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022.

US ambassador Thomas Nides on Wednesday morning told Kan 11 News there was no reason to wait with the gas deal with Lebanon until the end of the election campaign in Israel: “We worked on this for months, we had no idea there would be elections. We do not interfere in Israeli politics,” he claimed.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday night tweeted: “I spoke with the Israeli PM and the Lebanese President today to congratulate them on a breakthrough agreement to establish a maritime boundary for the first time between Israel and Lebanon. My Administration was proud to facilitate this deal, an anchor for regional stability and prosperity.”


Nides noted that the United States is now taking advantage of the opportunity created by the expected departure of Lebanese president Michel Aoun. “These deals can collapse within a day,” he warned, adding, “We want this historic agreement to be completed for the benefit of the public.”

Not clear which public, but it is clear that the Biden administration is pushing to sign a crucial border deal between two country leaders who may no longer be in office in a couple of weeks: Aoun and Lapid.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar specializing in constitutional and international law who is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and heads the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, commented on the deal Tuesday, saying:

The agreement to cede territory to Lebanon certainly involves territory Israel has claimed as its sovereign territory. This is the first time Israel has ceded territory over which it has declared sovereignty (unlike Sinai, Gaza, etc). This is the first time an Israeli government gives away territory without the support of the Knesset, and the first time a minority government does so. Transferring any national territory requires Knesset approval in Israeli law, as well as the constitutions of countries from the US to Egypt. The reason the government claims it must do this now, before elections or a Knesset vote, is that this is Hezbollah’s demand to prevent war. This means Hezbollah now overrides Israel’s democracy.

The Kohelet Policy Forum petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against the deal.

Likud Chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Tuesday: “Hezbollah will use billions from the gas to arm itself with missiles and rockets against Israeli citizens, and Iran will position itself in front of Rosh Hanikra and in front of Israel’s gas reserves.”

He is not wrong: the latest draft, according to leaks, includes Lebanon’s change of the qualified companies to dig the Qana gas field from those who are not under US sanctions to companies not under international sanctions – opening the door, eventually, to Iranian companies operated by the Revolutionary Guards to locate in the water north-west of Israel.

Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir said on Tuesday that, too, plans to petition the High Court against the agreement on the grounds that it is illegal since the current transitional government does not have the authority to make such a decision without passing it in keeping with Basic Law: Referendum.

Ben Gvir later announced that he would demand revoking the deal with Lebanon as part of the coalition agreement when he and his partner, MK Bezalel Smotrich, negotiate with the presumed PM-elect to form a government after the elections. But, of course, this a lot of dividing up the bear’s skin before killing the bear.

According to Ben Gvir, “We will not accept the existence of an agreement that endangers the security of the country, strengthens the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and devastates the sovereign territories of the State of Israel in favor of the enemy state of Lebanon. Such an agreement will have to be canceled by the right-wing government as soon as it is established.”

Again, it will have to be, but first, there will have to be a right-wing government. At this point, it isn’t at all clear that Likud Chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu is so eager to include Ben Gvir and Smotrich in his government, never mind revoking a signed international agreement. Don’t forget, Netanyahu ran on an anti-Oslo agenda, and after he had won, he ceded the city of Hebron to Yasser Arafat. We have the pictures.

PM Lapid announced that he plans to convene his cabinet on Wednesday and get the deal approved. But it’s not going to be simple or easy. There are currently three High Court petitions pending against the deal, arguing that a referendum is needed to approve the agreement; the approval of the Knesset is required; and a transitional minority government on the verge of elections is not at all authorized to make such fateful decisions.

The Lapid government will claim in response that the referendum law is intended for decisions concerning sovereign territories, such as the return of the Golan Heights, and not for economic water. It will likely note that the economic water agreement that was signed with Cyprus was not brought to a referendum.

Regardless of the High Court’s decision, once the cabinet passes the deal it must be deposited on the Knesset’s desk two weeks ahead of the signing. The PM could choose to also have a debate in the House – but he won’t, because he would lose that vote. Still, two weeks from Wednesday will be October 26 (Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan), only 6 days ahead of the elections. The risky timing may cause Lapid to reconsider the move.


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