Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati gestures as he attends an interview with Reuters at the government headquarters in downtown Beirut, Lebanon September 30, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
BEIRUT, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday said that U.S. guarantees would protect a maritime border deal with Israel should Israel’s conservative former premier Benjamin Netanyahu win a majority in elections.
Netanyahu had threatened to “neutralise” the agreement, which came into force last week after years of indirect U.S.-brokered talks that finally set out the Mediterranean boundary between the two enemy states after decades of hostility.
The United States pledged to remain a guarantor of the agreement. The mediator for the talks, U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein, told reporters in Lebanon that he expected the deal to withstand both contentious Israel elections and a transition to a new president in Lebanon.
Mikati appeared confident, too, telling Reuters in a phone interview from the Arab League Summit in Algiers that he was “not afraid” for 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 (deal),” he said.
He said the United States “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 more exploration for energy resources by both Israel and Lebanon.
Officials in both countries, as well as the U.S., had said that the economic interests would be enough to deter any disruption of the deal by either side.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s top negotiator in the deal, said he was “assured” repeatedly by the U.S. 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. The answer from the American side was always no,” he told Reuters.
He said cancelling the deal would create an issue with the U.S. 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,” he said.
With roughly 85% of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud and its likely religious and far-right allies were on pace Wednesday to control a majority in parliament.
Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Nick Macfie
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