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Lebanon PM confident Netanyahu’s return won’t torpedo maritime deal

by Nov 3, 2022Arab News

The US guarantee of the Lebanon-Israel maritime deal means that the possible return of conservative former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu  after Tuesday’s election will not put the historic agreement  in jeopardy, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Wednesday.

Mr Netanyahu has criticised the deal and threatened to “neutralise” it if he returns to power.

With about 90 per cent of the votes  counted, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party and its religious and far-right allies were on pace on Wednesday to reach a majority in the Knesset.

The maritime deal only came into force last week after years of indirect US-brokered talks that finally set the Mediterranean boundary between the two enemy states after decades of hostility.

The US has pledged to remain a guarantor of the agreement. The mediator for the talks, US energy envoy Amos Hochstein, told reporters in Lebanon that he expected the deal to withstand both contentious Israeli elections and a transition to a new president in Lebanon.

Mr Mikati appeared confident, too, telling Reuters in a phone interview from the Arab League summit on Algiers that he was “not afraid” over the fate of the deal.

“We’re not afraid of a change in the authorities in Israel. Whether Netanyahu wins or someone else, no one can stand in the way of this,” he said.

He said the US, “as the sponsor of this deal”, would be responsible for its smooth implementation.

Though limited in scope, the delineation deal is expected to pave the way for the further exploration of energy resources by both Israel and Lebanon.

Officials in both countries, as well as the US, had said that the economic interests would be enough to deter any disruption of the deal by either side.

Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of parliament and Lebanon’s top negotiator on the deal, said he had been “assured” repeatedly by the US that a change in leadership in Israel would not have an impact.

“I asked multiple times including during the negotiations and after the fact — especially when Netanyahu said that if he wins, he would cancel the deal — whether his victory would affect the deal,” he told Reuters. “The answer from the American side was always no.”

He said cancelling the deal would create an issue with the US as its guarantor.

“Do we want stability and economic prosperity and growth for both countries or do we want a conflict that may lead to a war? That’s a decision that someone has to think about very carefully,” Mr Bou Saab said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, right, presents a gift to US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein in Beirut. AP

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