Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar sets the record straight on the Palestinian question

1 / 6
A screen grab of Al Arabiya’s interview with the former Saudi ambassador to the US.
2 / 6
President Bill Clinton (C) stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) as they shake hands for the first time, on September 13, 1993 at the White House in Washington DC. (Photo by J. DAVID AKE / AFP)
3 / 6
US President Bill Clinton (C) walks with Mideast leaders at the White House prior to the signing of the Israel-PLO autonomy agreement. Left to right are Jordan's King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Clinton, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (AFP PHOTO )
4 / 6
A Palestinian girl joins a during a rally for supporters of the Fateh movement against Israel's West Bank annexation plans, in Beit Hanun in the north of the Gaza Strip, on July 6, 2020. (Photo by Mohammed ABED / AFP)
5 / 6
A Palestinian protester waves the national flag during a demonstration in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the Israeli-occupied West Bank against the Jewish state's plans to annex part of the territory, on June 6, 2020. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
6 / 6
A Palestinian woman walks past a mural depicting late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (L) and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (R) in Gaza City on July 4, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)
Short Url
Updated 19 October 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar sets the record straight on the Palestinian question

  • Interview with Al Arabiya showed contrast between the Palestinian leadership’s failures and Saudi Arabia’s unstinting support
  • The crucial revelations follow the Palestinian leadership’s condemnations of the US-UAE-Israeli trilateral declaration in August

RIYADH: As a towering figure of global diplomacy, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al-Saud had an inside track on many of the personalities and issues that shaped the decades since the early 1980s.

But the world had to wait until this month to catch a glimpse of some of the decisions and actions witnessed by him in the rooms where they happened, and which decided the fate of millions of people in the Middle East, Palestinians in particular.

In the event, Al Arabiya’s interview with the former Saudi ambassador to the US, who also served as head of the Saudi Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, has been dominating the political conversation like no other in recent memory.

His reminiscences are a study in contrasts between Saudi Arabia’s steadfast position on the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian leadership’s self-inflicted wounds and “failures,” including their criticism of Gulf states over the UAE-Israel peace deal.

 

 

What has come to light in the course of the Prince Bandar interview are not just the many blunders of Palestinian leaders through the decades but also their dilly-dallying, the cumulative impact of which has cost their people dear and set back their statehood cause.

In a perverse way, however, something that counts in favor of the present Palestinian leadership is that the reason why Prince Bandar decided to make the crucial revelations was their loud condemnations of the US-UAE-Israeli trilateral declaration of August.

Prince Bandar admitted that his initial reaction to the Palestinian statements was one of anger, but afterwards of sadness and hurt.

“I recalled events I was witness to related to the Palestinian cause from 1978 to 2015,” he said, before delivering a fascinating, first-person tour d’horizon, documenting the multidimensional support — moral, material, military, diplomatic and economic — extended by the Saudi leadership and the state to Palestinians from 1939 onwards.




US President George Bush (C) meets at the White House with Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan (L) and Kuwaity Ambassador Sheikh Saud Nasir Al-Sabah to discuss the current status of the Arabian Gulf crisis on Dec. 21, 1990 in Washington. (AFP)

Prince Bandar recalled the Saudi role in the aftermath of the 1948 war, when Arab League countries decided to help the distressed Palestinian people.

“Fighting alongside their Egyptian brothers, the Saudi Army entered Palestinian land and did very well … Three thousand Saudi soldiers were on the Egyptian front and inside Palestine. In this war, 150 Saudis were martyred. At the time, the Saudi army had just been established and had limited capabilities, but the armies that had been created before it had limited capabilities as well.”

Even though the current Palestinian leadership’s statements inspire little confidence, the dominant response elicited by Al Arabiya’s interview would appear to be: If only they could rewind history and try it a different way. Consider Prince Bandar’s account of the events of 1986, when King Fahd asked him to propose to US President Ronald Reagan to do something to help the Palestinian cause.

 

“I went and met with President Reagan. I informed him that the Palestinians now agreed to UN Resolution 242, which they had rejected in 1973 … I took a letter to Secretary of State (George) Shultz saying that if the Palestinians recognized UN Resolution 242 … denounce terrorism and recognize the right of the region’s states to live in peace, Reagan was ready to recognize the PLO and hold talks with it.

“I left and called King Fahd, and told him about the offer. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. I told him that I had the letter written and signed so he told me to go ahead with the plan and asked me to head to Tunisia to deliver the letter to Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) directly. I went there and met Abu Ammar (who) stood up as usual, and said, ‘Palestine is free!’ and he started dancing and kissing and hugging me.

 

“It is well known to everyone that Abu Ammar always loved to kiss people. I asked him about the announcement date so he could go meet with (Jordan’s) King Hussein to hold a joint declaration and so on. ‘Not possible,’ he replied. ‘How is it not possible? This is what you asked for and we got it for you,’ I said. He replied: ‘I follow an Arab code of ethics.’ I said: ‘Absolutely, now go for it and don’t waste another opportunity.’”

“He then proceeded to tell me that he first needed to go to Saudi Arabia to thank King Fahd for what he had done before going to King Hussein … when he requested a plane, I told him he could use the plane I came on to go to Jeddah. He took the plane and we did not see him for a month. He went to South Yemen and North Korea, with whom we did not even have ties. He also visited countries in Africa and Asia before arriving in the Kingdom. After all this time, the Americans said that they were no longer interested. Many things had happened and their focus had shifted.”

Prince Bandar was equally candid in his take on the Arab bloc's repudiation of the 1978 Camp David agreement. “It became the mistake that played a major role in deepening the Palestinian tragedy, as the Arab nation boycotted Egypt, the mother of the world, because the Palestinians rejected the autonomy provisions … and considered this peace treaty a betrayal of the Arab nation,” he said.




Former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan (R) and former US Vice President Dick Cheney attending Saudi-US Partnership Gala event in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bandar Al-Jaloud / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP) 

After the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, Prince Bandar said, he sought Arafat’s views on the Camp David Treaty. When Arafat told the prince “‘Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accord.’ I said: ‘Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?’ He said, ‘I wanted to, but (Syrian President) Hafez Al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.’ I thought to myself: ‘So he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians,’ but it was as God willed it.”

Fast forward to Feb. 2007, when King Abdullah brought Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to Makkah for crisis talks to end deadly Fatah-Hamas violence and form a unified Palestinian leadership.

 

“After (King Abdullah) checked what they had written and read it in front of everyone and asked them to vow before God and in front of everyone that they agree to this deal, he asked them to shake hands and congratulated them, saying, ‘God is our witness, and we are in his holy land. (Prince) Saud (bin Faisal), take the brothers to the Kaaba and let them pledge their word before God and before the Palestinian people.’ Only a few days after they left Saudi Arabia, we received news they had already gone back on their word and started conspiring and plotting against each other once again.”

Of course, as Prince Bandar made it clear, the follies of their leaders do not mean that the Palestinian people have forfeited the right to return to their homeland or demand that Israel withdraw from Arab lands. Peace cannot be made at the expense of Palestinian rights, he said, adding poignantly: “A single drop of Palestinian blood is more precious than the earth’s treasures.”

 

Having made that point, Prince Bandar asserted that whenever the Palestinian leadership asked for advice and help, Saudi Arabia would provide them with both without expecting anything in return, but they would always take the help, and ignore the advice.

“Then they would fail and turn back to us again, and we would support them again, regardless of their mistakes,” he said. This nature of the relationship, he felt, might have convinced the Palestinian leadership that “there is no price to pay for any mistakes they commit towards the Saudi leadership or the Saudi state, or the Gulf leaderships and states.”

Noting “the circumstances and times have changed,” Prince Bandar added: “I think it is only fair to the Palestinian people to know some truths that have not been discussed or have been kept hidden.”

Decoder

UN Resolution 242

It was a resolution of the UN Security Council adopted on Nov. 22, 1967, in an effort to secure a just and lasting peace in the wake of the Six-Day (June) War, fought primarily between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The Israelis supported the resolution because it called on the Arab states to accept Israel’s right “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Each of the Arab states eventually accepted it (Egypt and Jordan accepted the resolution from the outset) because of its clause calling for Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The Palestine Liberation Organization rejected it until 1988 because it lacked explicit references to Palestinians. Though never fully implemented, it was the basis of diplomatic efforts to end Arab-Israeli conflicts until the Camp David Accords and remains an important touchstone in any negotiated resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. (Source: Britannica.com)


Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

Updated 26 November 2020

Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

  • Without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs
  • Vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied

AMMAN: An Israeli court has forced state authorities to reveal the criteria that need to be met for Palestinian Jerusalem youth to become citizens of Israel.

The judicial order will mean that approximately 20,000 Palestinians aged between 18 and 21 living in East Jerusalem will now know the requirements when petitioning for Israeli citizenship, which is not automatically granted to them as residents of the city.

The vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied, nor have the desire, to become Israelis. But the court decision should in future make the application process easier for those interested in carrying an Israeli passport and having the protection of the Israeli government regarding their legal status.

Jerusalem attorney, Mohammed Dahdal, who has practiced civil and human rights law for more than 30 years, noted that without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs, among other things.

However, they did pay taxes to Israel and received social benefits such as national insurance, unemployment payments, and healthcare coverage.

Dahdal told Arab News that after 1988, when Jordan disengaged from the West Bank, which included East Jerusalem, Jerusalemites became stateless citizens. He said the ruling had come about after a Palestinian from Jerusalem had appealed to the court after revealing a loophole in the law.

He noted that the court decision, published by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, made four conditions to ensure receipt of an Israeli passport. “That the applicant has no other citizenship, that they were born in Israel (for Israel, East and West Jerusalem are both parts of Israel), that the applicant is between 18 and 21 years old, and has lived continuously in Israel during the five years preceding applying for citizenship.”

The lawyer added that the Israeli government had fought in court to have the criteria for citizenship kept under wraps.

Former Jordanian member of parliament, Audeh Kawwas, who was on Wednesday appointed as a member of the Jordanian Senate, told Arab News: “If the aim is to solve the statelessness issue of Jerusalemites, I am for it and I have spoken about it (as a committee member) in the World Council of Churches.

“However, if this is an attempt to disenfranchise Palestinians and to make the city more Israeli, then I am totally opposed.”

Hazem Kawasmi, a community activist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that many young Palestinian Jerusalemites were in a desperate situation, as no government or institution was taking care of them and their needs.

He said: “They are living under occupation with daily harassment from the police and Israeli intelligence and face all kinds of racism and enmity.

“Israeli citizenship helps them get high-skilled jobs and it is a prerequisite for many jobs. It helps them travel for tourism or work to Europe and the US without the cumbersome, complicated procedures of getting visas, that is if they get it at all.

“Finally, Israeli citizenship makes the youth feel safe not to lose their residency in Jerusalem and movement and work in Israel,” he added.

Khalil Assali, a member of the Jerusalem Waqf and an observer of Jerusalem affairs, told Arab News that he was doubtful that Israel would speed up the process for granting Israeli citizenship. “They have made this move to show their newly established Arab friends that they are acting democratically.”

Hijazi Risheq, head of the Jerusalem Merchants’ committee, told Arab News that the Israelis were looking for ways to turn the city into a Jewish one. By giving citizenship to youth between the ages of 18 and 21, Israel was aiming to deter them from carrying out hostile acts against Israel and keep them away from the Palestinian National Authority and its security forces, he said.

Jerusalem-based human rights activist, Rifaat Kassis, said: “The idea that Jerusalem is Arab has become an empty slogan. Meanwhile, Israeli racism has become the overriding power that forces Jerusalemites trying to have a dignified life with their families to live under difficult conditions.”