BEIRUT — Lebanon will request amendments to US envoy Amos Hochstein's written proposal on the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel by tomorrow at the latest, Lebanese Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab announced Monday. Bou Saab added that he hoped Hochstein's answer would be sent to Lebanon "before the end of the week."
These remarks followed a meeting between Lebanese President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in the Presidential Palace in Baabda. The meeting was aimed at formulating Lebanon’s answer to the proposal.
Following the meeting, Bou Saab said in a statement that "a response will be sent to the US mediator, at the latest tomorrow, in which we request amendments on the proposal. We hope that he will send his answer before the end of the week. It is after this that our final position will be sent to him." Bou Saab also insisted that Lebanon's position is "unified."
For his part, Mikati said in a statement following the meeting that "the agreement's main pillars that we want are there and our position is unified for Lebanon's sake," adding that "things are heading on the right path."
Earlier on Monday, Aoun met with the maritime border technical committee in Baabda Palace to go over Hochstein's proposal concerning the Lebanese-Israeli maritime delineation, according to the presidency's official Twitter account.
Lebanon and Israel have been negotiating for two years through the United States as a mediator to delimit their maritime border and thus remove obstacles to the exploration and exploitation of offshore gas deposits. The Lebanese presidency announced on Saturday that the US envoy Amos Hochstein delivered the proposal to the officials in Lebanon on the same day, after intense indirect negotiations in recent months between the two sides.
Also on Saturday, Mikati told L'Orient-Le Jour that “the atmosphere is positive” and that “an agreement should be reached soon.” This “could take place before the end of President Aoun's term of office” on Oct. 31, he added. If concluded, the 10-page proposal would “have positive repercussions on other issues and especially on the presidential election,” Mikati said.
In the presence of the French Ambassador, Anne Grillo, Aoun met on Monday with the Director of North Africa and the Middle East at the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Anne Gueguen, at Baabda Palace and informed her that "Lebanon will determine its position on the content of the written proposal ... which includes articles that are still under study today," noting that he has been keen, over the past months, to “guarantee Lebanon’s marine border rights and provide the appropriate conditions for oil and gas exploration operations in the exclusive economic zone to start."
Aoun added that the French giant TotalEnergies is the one that is supposed to start with the exploration operations, stressing that "there will be no partnership with the Israeli side."
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a weekly cabinet meeting that Hochstein’s proposal on the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel "protects" and "strengthens" the latter’s interests, adding that he had also received the US proposal and negotiated "the final details.”
"We cannot yet say that this is a done deal, but we can say that, as we asked from the beginning, the proposal fully protects Israel's security, diplomatic and economic interests,” Lapid said at his weekly cabinet meeting.
“For more than 10 years, Israel has been trying to reach this agreement. The security of the north of the country will be strengthened. The Karish field will come on stream and produce natural gas ... We are not opposed to the development of an additional gas field in Lebanon from which we will receive our fair share,” Lapid added.
The Lebanese and Israeli authorities did not reveal over the weekend the text of the American proposal. Lebanese sources told L'Orient-Le Jour that the Karish field would remain in the Israeli fold while Lebanon would get “the whole of the Qana gas field,” although part of it “exceeds” the future demarcation line between the two countries in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli authorities have stated that they want to start gas production as soon as possible at the Karish field, operated by the British group Energean. For its part, the French group TotalEnergies is expected to explore and exploit the Qana field, a senior Israeli official following the case told AFP.