By Dan Williams and Maya Gebeily
JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Top Israeli ministers on Wednesday endorsed a U.S.-brokered deal to delineate a maritime border with Lebanon, paving the way for a potentially fractious two-week parliamentary review before it goes into force.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s security cabinet said the deal should be “urgently” green-lit, according to a statement following the meeting.
If finalised, the agreement – hailed on Tuesday by all three parties involved as a historic achievement – would mark a diplomatic departure from decades of war and hostility as well as opening the door to offshore energy exploration.
A draft seen by Reuters said it was intended to be a “a permanent and equitable resolution” of the maritime dispute but did not resolve a disagreement over the countries’ shared land border.
It will take effect once Lebanon and Israel send letters to Washington, which will issue a notice announcing the deal is in place.
On that day, Lebanon and Israel will simultaneously send identical coordinates to the United Nations laying out the boundary’s location.
It will begin west of a line of buoys that extends from the contested land border. Those buoys will remain in place, according to the deal’s text.
Parties to the deal would seek to resolve any further maritime differences through the United States, securing an ongoing guarantor role for Washington.
Following Wednesday’s endorsement by Lapid’s security cabinet, the deal will likely be submitted to the full cabinet and then to the Knesset for a two-week review ending close to a national election due on Nov. 1, government sources said.
A centrist, Lapid’s caretaker government wants the deal done soon but has denied that the ballot is the deadline.
His challenger, conservative ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has argued the Lebanese could benefit Hezbollah, and accused Lapid of evading parliamentary scrutiny – setting up a possibly contentious review by lawmakers.
Lebanon, too, wants to move forward quickly.
President Michel Aoun is keen to sign the deal as his crowning achievement before his six-year term ends on Oct. 31, according to political sources.
The deal will not be submitted to Lebanon’s parliament but the prime minister, president and parliamentary speaker – the de facto ruling troika of an economically stricken country – have voiced satisfaction with its terms.
Lebanon’s deep economic crisis was also an incentive for it to move quickly, as potential revenues from gas exploitation could help replenish state coffers or at least ease chronic electricity shortages.
TotalEnergies is set to begin exploration at the Qana prospect immediately after the deal takes effect.
Seeking to play down future Lebanese profits, Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar told Tel Aviv’s 103 FM radio initial estimates put that prospect’s total value at some $3 billion.