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October 23, 2022 11:14 am

Israeli High Court Rejects Appeals Against Lebanon Maritime Border Agreement Paving Way to Signing Landmark Deal

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Israeli navy boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from Rosh Hanikra, close to the Lebanese border. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad

Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice on Sunday rejected a series of legal appeals against the US-mediated maritime border agreement with Lebanon clearing the last hurdle for the government to move forward and vote on its approval.

“The High Court ruling will allow us to advance the important agreement on the maritime border with Lebanon in the coming days,” Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said following the decision. A special meeting has been convened for the cabinet to vote on the agreement at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Thursday morning.

The three judges who heard oral arguments against the agreement in a hearing last Thursday, unanimously rejected the four petitions, according to the court decision statement. The reasoning supporting the decision will be published separately, the statement read.

Earlier this month, Israel’s security cabinet voted in favor of the landmark deal, which aims to resolve a decades long maritime boundary dispute between Israel and Lebanon over territorial rights and the exploitation of gas reserves in a 330 square mile area of the Mediterranean Sea.

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During the ongoing talks, the head of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization Hassan Nasrallah has in recent months escalated threats to attack Israeli targets in the Karish gas field, located south of the disputed area, unless an agreement delineating the Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary is reached.

In one of the petitions against the negotiated deal, Kohelet Forum, an Israeli nonprofit think tank, argued that the agreement would require a referendum or a majority of 80 MKs.

“At Thursday’s High Court hearing, large question marks remained regarding the legality of the agreement that did not receive any response from the government representatives,” Kohelet Forum stated in response to Sunday’s decision, adding that the organization had expected the court to demand explanations and clarifications.

The critics of the deal have argued that Israel’s caretaker government should not be permitted to take strategic decisions such as changes about the country’s maritime border without having an electoral mandate.

“I don’t know of any Western democracy where a minority government can cede national territory without legislative input,” tweeted Kohelet Policy Forum’s Eugene Kontorovich, who is also director of the Center for the Middle East and International Law at the George Mason University School of Law. “What has happened in Israel is not a democratic process, but a capitulation to Hezbollah’s threats, which swept up the caretaker government, and with it the courts.”

The breakthrough of the agreement brokered by US envoy Amos Hochstein comes just days before Israel is headed to its fifth election within three and a half years on Nov. 1.

“The date of the agreement close to the elections is not desirable – but necessary,” Gantz said. “This is a good and correct agreement that has positive security, political and economic implications for the entire region.”

Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at the Hudson Institute argued that the Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement is neither in the American nor the Israeli interest and does “nothing” to advance an Arab-Israeli peace or relations with Lebanon.

“The best that can be said of the maritime border agreement is that it may have bought a limited period of quiet while Israel begins to exploit the Karish field,” Doran wrote in an analysis report released on Wednesday. “This maritime border agreement tacitly recognizes Israel only in the same way that every missile Hezbollah launches at Israel tacitly recognizes it.”

Once the Israeli government meets for a final vote, the official signing of the maritime demarcation agreement between the two countries is expected to take place at the United Nations base in Naqoura in southern Lebanon, according to a report by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. The agreement will be signed separately by each side in the presence of Hochstein.

“When making this agreement, no Lebanese official met an Israeli official or spoke to one on the phone,” Doran commented. “There will be no joint signing ceremony, and certainly no handshake on the White House lawn.”

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