Government votes to advance Lebanese maritime border deal

Israeli government Ministers voted on Wednesday to move to the final stage of the approval process for the maritime border agreement with Lebanon.

Full office gave the deal its blessing hours after the small security cabinet voted to back it. The US-brokered proposal will now go to the Knesset, where lawmakers will have 14 days to consider it before the government can give final approval.

“It is important and urgent to reach a maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon at this time,” according to a summary of the security cabinet meeting by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, approved by ministers.

This meeting brought together Lapid and his top advisers, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Gideon Saar, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and d other ministers of the ruling coalition.

Before ministers met, Bennett announced he would back the deal after a period of indecision, saying it should be approved as soon as possible despite decisions by the current government. temp worker status, although he offered only lukewarm support for the deal itself.

Bennett said the current deal should not elicit “victory celebrations or cries of despair as if it were a disaster”. He argued that the deal is “not a historic diplomatic victory, but it’s not a terrible surrender deal either”, as the opposition has claimed.

“Not everything that is good for Lebanon is bad for Israel,” he said. “There are times when it is possible to achieve a positive outcome for both parties.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/ Flash90)

An overwhelming majority of cabinet ministers backed the deal, although there was some opposition, including from Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who had previously abstained when the security cabinet ruled. voted to send the agreement to the entire cabinet.

She reportedly suggested the hypocrisy of her fellow ministers during the cabinet meeting, saying they would have strongly condemned a vote on the deal shortly before the election if opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was still prime minister.

“If Netanyahu brought the same deal two weeks before the election and you were in opposition, you would burn the country down,” she told Channel 12 news. “You would call her [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and discuss the destruction of democracy.

Although a member of Lapid’s coalition government, Shaked – who took over Bennett’s Yamina party after handing over the premiership to Lapid in June – has expressed a desire to join a future government with opposition bloc parties right-wing cleric led by Netanyahu.

At the security cabinet meeting, Israeli defense chiefs expressed support for the deal and said it did not benefit the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, as Netanyahu and other critics have claimed.

“Hezbollah did not want an agreement with Israel but understood that in light of the internal political crisis in Lebanon, it had an opportunity to gain points in public opinion,” said Mossad chief David Barnea, according to the Walla news site.

Military chief Aviv Kohavi echoed Barnea in saying the deal was not good for Hezbollah, according to the report.

Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorism in Jerusalem, May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lapid said he would invite Netanyahu to a security briefing on the deal, according to his office.

It was unclear whether Netanyahu – who has spoken out vehemently against the deal – will accept the invitation. While Netanyahu rejected such face-to-face briefings when Bennett was prime minister, he met Lapid twice in August.

On Tuesday morning, Israel announced that it had reached a “historic” agreement with Lebanon on the maritime border between the two countries in the gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said on Wednesday that the current incumbent government is legally entitled to sign the agreement, despite the proximity of elections and the fact that it is a caretaker government.

An Israeli Sa’ar 5-class corvette guards the floating production, storage and offloading vessel Energean at the Karish gas field, in footage released by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

She also wrote that while it would be preferable for the government to grant the Knesset the right to approve or reject the deal, it had no legal obligation to do so and could simply provide the Knesset with the details of the agreement.

Opposition lawmakers – along with Shaked – have insisted that the maritime deal should not go ahead while a caretaker government is in power and should be brought before the Knesset, which is not currently in session. session.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, said he would convene the plenum so the deal could be quickly considered by MKs. He cited “the importance of the issue” and a request from the Knesset Cabinet Secretary to meet during the break from major Jewish holidays.

According to a law passed in 2014, any plan to cede territory within the borders of the State of Israel must either be approved by the Knesset with a majority of 61 votes and then by the public in a referendum, or be adopted by the legislature. by a super majority of 80 votes.

Lapid pointed out that the agreement concerns only the offshore exclusive economic zone of Israelnot a sovereign territory.

The government itself, however, has the right to make the decision to allow the Knesset to approve the deal or simply provide the Knesset with the details of the deal, Baharav-Miara said.

On Wednesday morning, the High Court of Justice rejected a request by lobbying organization Lavi to issue an injunction against the government to prevent it from signing such an agreement given the short time before elections scheduled for November 1.

Lapid said the deal would “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy and provide stability to our northern border.”

Jeremy Sharon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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