JERUSALEM: Lebanon and Israel have received a final draft of a US-mediated maritime border deal that satisfies all of their requirements and could imminently lead to a “historic deal,” negotiators from the two countries said on Tuesday.
“If everything goes well, Amos Hochstein’s efforts could imminently lead to a historic deal,” Lebanon’s lead negotiator Bou Saab told Reuters minutes after receiving the draft from Hochstein, the US official engaged in months of shuttle diplomacy to try to end the dispute.
Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata who headed the Israeli negotiating team echoed Saab’s remarks:
“All our demands were met, the changes that we asked for were corrected. We protected Israel’s security interests and are on our way to a historic agreement,” he said in a statement.
While limited in scope, an agreement would ease security and economic concerns in both countries, whose shared history is rife with conflict.
The deal would resolve a territorial dispute in the eastern tip of the Mediterranean sea in an area where Lebanon aims to explore for natural gas, and near waters where Israel has already found commercially viable quantities of hydrocarbons.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militia backed by Iran, has threatened to use force against Israel should Israel explore for gas near the disputed area before Lebanon is allowed to do so in its own maritime zone.
“We received minutes ago the final draft… Lebanon felt that it takes into consideration all of Lebanon’s requirements and we believe that the other side should feel the same,” Bou Saab said.
Israel last week rejected last-minute amendments to the deal by Lebanon that briefly appeared to jeopardize long-standing efforts to reach an agreement.
Officials from both countries were in close contact via the US mediator over the past few days in an effort to resolve outstanding differences.
Lebanon’s president said that a deal would not signify a “partnership” with Israel, a country Lebanon does not recognize and officially regards as an enemy.
“We are avoiding a sure-fire war in the region,” Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said last week.
Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar told Army Radio a signing date has not been set yet. Israel is holding an election on Nov. 1 and it is still unclear whether the accord would require parliament’s approval.