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‘Historic’ Lebanon-Israel Maritime Deal Will Affect Internal Politics in Both Countries

Israel and Lebanon have reached a United States-brokered agreement on their maritime borders, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced on Tuesday, describing the deal as “historic.”

“This unprecedented deal will strengthen Israel’s security, bolster our economy and deliver cleaner, more affordable energy to countries around the world,” Lapid tweeted.

Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser, said in a statement: “All our demands in the maritime border negotiations with Lebanon were met. The changes we asked for in the text were made. All of Israel’s security interests were safeguarded. We are on a path toward a historic agreement.”

Lapid will convene the Security Cabinet on Wednesday, after which the full Cabinet will meet to approve the agreement, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun also expressed optimism about the draft deal.

“Reaching an agreement on maritime border demarcation will enable the exploration for oil and gas in the Lebanese fields located within the exclusive economic zone, which will achieve a new momentum for the process of economic revival,” he said Monday in a statement ahead of the announcement of the completion of the draft agreement.

Negotiations on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, backed by the United Nations and mediated by the United States, were launched in 2020. Over the last few months, the talks captured the world’s attention as they moved forward and American mediator Amos Holstein traveled between the two countries to facilitate the indirect negotiations.

Ashley Perry, a strategic consultant and a former senior adviser to Israeli government ministers including the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the Defense Ministry, told The Media Line that the signing of the deal could have an impact on Israel’s internal politics, especially with parliamentary elections approaching.

Perry believes that the maritime agreement definitely will help Lapid improve his image for the November 1 elections.

“It makes him look prime ministerial, makes him look like a leader who can work well on the diplomatic and global stage. Definitely [Lapid] can show it as an achievement to look prime ministerial and someone who can work very well for the good interests of the country,” he said.

On the other hand, Perry says, the agreement arguably for the first time creates an opportunity for the right to differentiate itself from the left in Israel, since “over the last few months, if not longer, this current government has done pretty well in security whether it has to do with Gaza and the Islamic Jihad or whether it’s in Judea and Samaria,” the biblical designation for the West Bank.

He believes that the political opposition, which is headed by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will attempt to delegitimize the deal since it will be closed by an interim prime minister.

“They’ll try to paint it as illegitimate; they’ll try and paint it as illegal; they’ll try and paint it as far too much of a compromise for the Israeli security and interests,” Perry said.

He added that there is talk about asking Israel’s Supreme Court to rule that it is illegal and illegitimate for an interim government to sign such an agreement, since typically during an election campaign big decisions like this are deferred.

Netanyahu has criticized the deal and he has been quoted by Israeli media as saying that Lapid seeks “to authorize the agreement without a debate in the Knesset and without the referendum required.”

“Lapid has no mandate to hand over sovereign territories and sovereign assets that belong to all of us to an enemy state,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on social media.

Other political voices in Israel also are opposed to the deal, arguing that it compromises the security and the economic interests of the country. Still others say that the way the decision was made is illegal.

“Relinquishing sovereign territory can only be done legally by presenting the deal to the Knesset for public discourse and by obtaining a special majority of 80 out of 120 members of Knesset, or by general referendum,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, founder and CEO of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, said in a statement.

Avivi told The Media Line that after Hizbullah sent drones to the Karish gas extraction platform in July and threatened it, “we got nervous, we negotiated a very fast deal ceding basically what Hizbullah asked, and obviously this will hurt dramatically Israel’s deterrence, the way Hizbullah sees it, the way Iran sees it.”

Also, he continued, “we don’t know what the future will hold, because if Lebanon will extract gas, there is a very good chance that the money will not go to benefit the people but will go to terror.”

Overall, Perry believes that this event opens up the possibility of a more substantive debate in the last weeks of the current election campaign, which he thinks have been lacking in the previous four campaigns in the last four years. “Most people are just talking about who they will sit with how they will form a government, and whether they will be able to form a stable government or not,” he said.

With only a few weeks to go before the elections, according to Perry, “this gives an opportunity for the right to differentiate itself from the left and to try and pick up a few votes from those disgruntled right-wing voters who voted for people in the current government, such as Naftali Bennett’s former supporters, (or) Ayelet Shaked’s current supporters.”

Dr. Eyal Lewin, chair of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science at Ariel University, believes that the maritime agreement will not necessarily affect the outcome of the elections.

“The results at the ballots are dictated by the clashes of social identities in Israeli society,” he told The Media Line, adding that Israelis vote according to identity “like football fans who would never abandon their team no matter how bad they played.”

He says that Netanyahu’s chances depend on the two Knesset mandates that move from election to election from one side of the political map to the other. “Voter turnout will probably make far more difference for Netanyahu’s chances than anything connected with the deal,” he said.

Chadi Nachabe, a Lebanese political and economic researcher, told The Media Line that both the Israeli and the Lebanese sides are trying to show that they won.

For Lebanon, however, this agreement is crucial due to the country’s financial crisis.

“The president needs to show that he did something in the end of his ‘lifetime’ presidency,” he said.

He adds that it seems that there is a green light from both sides, as well as the US and Iran, meaning that Hizbullah will not fight against the agreement.

Additionally, he noted that Hizbullah needs the economic stabilization, too. “The current system is the best-case scenario for Hizbullah, since total collapse will be against its power,” said Nachabe.

He also pointed out that it appears the US will provide aid to Lebanon on issues related to electricity in the current period and, also, that Lebanon will be able to receive monetary credit due to the start of fuel extraction from the contested maritime areas.

That, Nachabe said, will help in attracting investment.

Finally, and most importantly, according to Nachabe, if the agreement is signed, Lebanon will become a fuel-producing country, which will help with economic prosperity.