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Controversy as maritime border document suggests Lebanon recognized Israel

Controversy as maritime border document suggests Lebanon recognized Israel

There was controversy in Lebanon on Friday after a document on the demarcation of maritime borders appeared to suggest the country had recognized the neighboring state of Israel.
Talks have been ongoing between the two nations for some time amidst a backdrop of broader political tensions, with a state of war technically existing between them.

Possibilities of a thaw in relations have also been hindered by the influence of strongly anti-Israel factions in Lebanese politics, especially the Iran-affiliated Hezbollah.

The document in question, recorded as No. 71836 and published on the UN’s official website, said that “the secretary–general of the United Nations hereby certifies that the following international agreement has been registered with the secretariat in accordance with article 102 of the charter of the United Nations … constituting a maritime agreement between the state of Israel and the Lebanese Republic (with the letters, Oct. 18, 2020) Jerusalem, Oct. 27, 2020 and Baabda Oct. 27, 2022.”

Several Lebanese social media users criticized former Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah after the document was published, claiming that it proves the maritime agreement is tantamount to a treaty of recognition of the Israeli state.

One activist told Arab News on condition of anonymity: “The UN document is undeniably clear; Lebanon recognized the state of Israel, and Hezbollah’s role has become limited to protecting the common borders.”

The maritime border between the two states has been described as “historic” in some quarters, requiring long negotiations mediated by the US.

Its signing was hastened by the political and economic crisis that has engulfed Lebanon in recent years heightening Beirut’s need to expedite oil and gas exploration in its territorial waters, just as Israel began to extract oil and gas from the disputed Karish field that lies between the two countries.

Aoun and former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed two separate letters approving the text of the agreement. At the UN headquarters in Naqoura on the Lebanon-Israel border, the letters were delivered to the US mediator, Amos Hochstein, without handshakes between the representatives of the two parties.

The agreement granted Lebanon the Qana field, which is shared in part with Israel, provided that French energy company TotalEnergie, given the rights to drill, paid part of its resulting revenues to Israel. Israel was granted the Karish field in its entirety.

At the time, Lapid said the border demarcation agreement was a diplomatic and economic achievement, specifically mentioning Lebanon’s recognition of Israel. “It is a political achievement because it is not every day that an enemy country recognizes the state of Israel, through a written agreement, and in front of the entire international community,” he said.

Any recognition of Israel was denied at the time by Lebanon, but that claim has now been thrown into doubt.

“Lebanon, through the maritime border demarcation agreement, recognized the existence of the state of Israel,” Muhannad Haj Ali, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Arab News.

“Lebanon traded off the recognition card for stability on the southern border, and the possibility of benefiting from the gas wealth. That particular card was previously crucial in the Arab-Israeli negotiations,” he added.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah declared the agreement a great victory for Lebanon, the state, the people, and the resistance. “The circumstances under which the agreement was signed are proof that no talk of normalization is possible,” he said.

During the negotiations with Israel, Nasrallah had threatened to use force against Israeli exploration of the Karish field. After signing the agreement, he said: “With regard to the resistance, the mission is over. All the exceptional measures that the resistance had taken are now over.”
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