Hanna Saleh

The Cost of Giving up on Line 29

The Lebanese scene is surreal, sad, and funny:

The government vacuum continues, and no government that responds to the punitive votes cast on May 15 to a minimal degree will be allowed to take form.

The parties to the regime of sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing have accepted that electing a new president is “unfeasible” before the October 31 deadline.

More catastrophic are the booby-traps that have littered the course of border demarcation negotiations with Israel, which has mastered navigating this minefield. It has taken advantage of the “Nitrate regime” conceding Line 29, the line that marks our borders and safeguards our rights and wealth!

At the same time, public institutions are crumbling. Some have collapsed, and others are on the brink. Over the past few months, things have been going downhill as Lebanon loses two of the services that had distinguished it: education and healthcare! On the other hand, the team of tyrants has decided against taking any measures to contain the collapse and allow us to eventually rehabilitate our institutions and state.

However, the statelet’s encroachments continue to increase, and the fear is that we will see the crystallization of the requisites for the emergence of cartoon “statelets” that grant legitimacy to the statelet of Hezbollah!

For months, they turned the people’s attention to wealth anticipated from the gas. The “solutions” they promoted for it were promises that it would silence the churning of empty stomachs. Aoun wanted to crown the presidential term of collapse and humiliation by announcing that Lebanon had become an oil and gas state, so he rushed to demarcate the borders at any cost. He has always been willing to give up on Lebanon’s sovereignty in the hope that he would be rewarded by the US through the lifting of the sanctions that have been imposed on Gebran Bassil.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah hijacked the state and shifted between using the border demarcation talks to strengthen Iran’s negotiating position in Vienna and establishing a new “Shebaa Farms” on the sea to maintain its arsenal. And in the certain knowledge that it can always avoid accountability, the party lavished promises of the gas wealth ending hunger and taking the Lebanese from one position to another economically!

In turn, the majority of Lebanese citizens hoped that the negotiations and excavation efforts would fail so their wealth under the sea could be protected until political conditions change, thereby allowing us to use this wealth to reinvigorate the country and benefit its people down the line.

The entire population would lose out if the authoritarians succeed in plundering Lebanon’s gas wealth. When they realized that the Aounists were dying to begin excavations in one zone while the sectarian duo of Amal and Hezbollah were dying to excavate another, with both camps behaving as though they were entitled to these zones! And because there are no secrets in Lebanon, we discovered that the team of tyrants has set up around fifty front companies, a process facilitated by the corrupt laws that govern the management of our wealth, which oblige the companies doing the excavation and extraction to sell the oil and gas only through these particular companies. That is, they are seizing our wealth!

For all of these reasons, we saw citizens call for delaying the excavation in order to prevent the theft of wealth. They made these calls as though they had been anticipating the World Bank report (published in August) that the “Ponzi scheme” in Lebanon that began once the war ended and worsened before the October 17 revolution and then got even worse afterward, turning it into the biggest heist in history. The report left no doubts about whether these fears had been justified as it demonstrated, with numbers and figures, that “public finance in post-civil war Lebanon has been an instrument for systematic capture of the country’s resources, as it served the interests of an entrenched political economy.”

For months, their media worked to sell the idea that Line 23 should demarcate our maritime border with Israel despite the lack of a legal argument since it is not based on our land borders. Their propaganda presented this as an achievement, creating optimism around Lebanon, having given up on Line 29, which begins in Ras al-Naqoura and passes through the border point B1- the border between Lebanon and Palestine that had been reached by the Paulet–Newcombe Agreement by the French and British mandatory powers.

This demarcation was then adopted by the League of Nations in 1924 and the armistice agreement between Lebanon and Israel in 1949. That is, Lebanon is entitled to much of the Karish field, where gas has been found. Those pushing the narrative that great achievements had been made during the negotiations overlooked the fact that the famous May 17 Agreement that the President at the time, Amine Gemayel, had concluded with Israel, would have given Lebanon the Karish field in its entirety, giving it more that it would have gotten from Line 29!

On September 9, it happened. The officials awaiting Amos Hochstein’s delivery of Tel Aviv’s written response to the generous Lebanese offer were surprised by what the “mediator” said during the visit, which was limited to 3 hours. He relayed a “promise” from Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid that Tel Aviv would “approve” of the 23rd line and grant Lebanon the Qana oil field, which has not been explored and about which there is no serious data. However, the “promise” was accompanied by demands for the adoption of the maritime “Blue Line” demarcation, which is based on Israel’s moving Israel’s 5-kilometer deep shifting “line of buoys…” making it obvious that Lapid’s “promise” is akin to Rabin’s “promise” to give back the Golan Heights!

Tel Aviv made several other demands that derailed all the propositions that had been made. The intentions of the enemy state to link maritime demarcation, the line of “blue buoys” that it has clung to in demarcating the land border, as though the latter had not already been cleared up!

Israel’s proposal, after Lebanese officials conceded 1,800 square kilometers of our exclusive economic zone, is a deal that allows it to take Lebanese territory: in exchange for the Qana field, Lebanon must give up on 13 of its demands, and the land borders would be modified, starting with Ras al-Naqoura, known as B1, which would erase the Blue Line that had been drawn in 2000! This is exactly what the researcher and historian Essam Khalifa had warned of, warning that the enemy would swallow up the dangerous concession and prepare it as a basis for reconsidering the land borders!

What happened during the maritime border demarcation negotiations with Israel is the expected outcome of the tyranny’s performance. They have jumbled a national issue together with their private interests, pushed aside the legal foundations of the negotiations, and slammed logistic considerations against the wall. They sidelined the negotiating team, whose members had been an elite group of experts and replaced it with small, corrupt brokers, disregarded the country’s sovereignty and their obligations to safeguard it, and they put themselves above the constitution.

They leaped from one round of negotiations to another in what Deputy Michel Douaihy called “losing secret bazaars.” Worse still, they had the audacity to target the negotiating team and push a misleading “positive” narrative that they well know misconstrues the truth. They were comfortable with the atmosphere created by the parties to the Ponzi Scheme and the impressions they gave about the wealth that would rain on them!

This bitter experience tells us that this issue is not a question for the negotiating side. Rather, it concerns all the Lebanese and proposing a law that forces the executive to adopt Line 29 was among the first legislative actions that change deputies had taken. The bloc of change deputies must work to bring this matter back to parliament because addressing it in a manner that serves the national interest could save Lebanon and the Lebanese.