Full transcript: Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s interview on Israel-Palestine conflict
In the first part of a three-part series exclusive interview with Al Arabiya, Prince Bandar bin Sultan discusses the Kingdom's position on the Palestinian cause, calling out the Palestinian leadership for its historical and ongoing “failures,” including its criticism of Gulf states following the UAE-Israel peace deal.
Prince Bandar is Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the US and served as director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014 and the head of the National Security Council from 2005 to 2015.
Latest: Part two of the interview was aired at 6 p.m. GMT on Tuesday. In it, Prince Bandar bin Sultan discussed how Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had frustrated efforts to find a peace deal, despite offers from two US presidents.
Full transcript of Prince Bandar bin Sultan's tell-all interview below:
Prince Bandar bin Sultan: After writing down everything we have discussed yesterday and then reading it, I said to myself, it might be best to improvise and speak frankly.
The reason why I decided to speak tonight was that in recent days, I have heard shocking statements quoted from the Palestinian leadership. At first, I refused to believe what I heard, then a day or two later I saw it with my own eyes on TV.
Palestinian news anchor: The Palestinian leadership announces its strong rejection and condemnation of the surprising American-Israeli-Emirati trilateral declaration.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: They have turned their backs on everything: the rights of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian state, the two-state solution, and the holy city of Jerusalem which was already annexed and it was already declared. They deny all this and say “we come to you with a stop to annexations, be happy Palestinians.”
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat: A poisoned stab in the back of the Palestinian people and an attempt to try and get around international legitimacy.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan: What I heard from Palestinian leadership in recent days was truly painful to hear. This low level of discourse is not what we expect from officials who seek to gain global support for their cause. Their transgression against the Gulf states' leadership with this reprehensible discourse is entirely unacceptable.
However, if we want to look at it from a different perspective, it is not surprising to see how quick these leaders are to use terms like “treason,” “betrayal,” and “back stabbing,” because these are their ways in dealing with each other. Gaza Strip leaders [Hamas], who have seceded from the PA [Palestinian Authority] to govern Gaza independently, accuse the West Bank leadership of treason, while at the same time, West Bank leadership accuses separatist Gaza Strip leaders of stabbing them in the back.
Efforts in the past years would have been better focused on the Palestinian cause, peace initiatives, and protecting the rights of the Palestinian people to reach a point where this just, albeit robbed, cause can finally see the light, and when I say robbed, I mean both by Israel and Palestinian leaders equally.
My first reaction was anger. However, after giving it some thought, my anger turned into sadness and hurt. I recalled events I was witness to related to the Palestinian cause from 1978 to 2015. I would like to give a short overview of the positions of the Saudi leadership and the Saudi State towards Palestine in the period from 1939 to 1978.
These events I want to talk about today.
And frankly my words today are directed at my brothers and sisters, Saudi Arabian citizens, because they are my priority and they are the priority for their country and our guardian King Salman, God bless him, and his Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed [bin Salman].
But these are the customs of the Saudi leadership from the time of the founder, King Abdulaziz, and the kings who followed him up until the current King Salman.
But I would like to give a brief overview of the positions of the Saudi leadership, of the Saudi state, toward Palestine during the period between 1939 to 1978.
It is the right of the Palestinian people, and the right of the Arab people, for Israel to withdraw from the Arab lands it occupied in the year 1967, and for the Palestinian people to return to their homeland
They highlight that peace is the basis, but [it should not be] at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.
A single drop of Palestinian blood is more precious than the earth’s treasures and all that they contain.
We reaffirmed our firm position towards the restoration of all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
I was not a direct witness to that period or involved in it by virtue of my work. However, this brief covering the period from 1939 to 1978 is all documented and well known. The knowledge I have about that period is from documents that I had access to after I entered the diplomatic and political service to serve my country. I have also heard it from people who lived through that period, such as the late King Fahd, King Abdullah, Prince Sultan and Prince Naif, may God have mercy on them all, and other Saudi officials. I also heard it directly from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, who has close ties with all Palestinian officials, because we are all concerned with the Palestinian cause, which we consider both a national and a just cause.
However, allow me to start by saying some things that can give context to my words and why I am saying them.
The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful. That sums up the events of the last 70 or 75 years. There is also something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common; they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.
Amin al-Husseini in the 1930s was betting on the Nazis in Germany, and we all know what happened to Hitler and Germany. He was recognized by Germany, Hitler, and the Nazis for standing with them against the Allies when Berlin’s radio station broadcast recordings by him in Arabic, but that was all he got, which was no good as far as the Palestinian cause was concerned.
Moving forward in time, no one, especially us in the Gulf states, can forget the image of Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] as he visited Saddam Hussein in 1990 after the occupation of Kuwait. An Arab people occupied and Kuwait, alongside the other Gulf states, had always welcomed the Palestinians with open arms and was home to Palestinian leaders. Yet we saw Abu Ammar in Baghdad, embracing Saddam, and laughing and joking with him as he congratulated him for what had happened. This has had a painful impact on all the peoples of the Gulf, especially on our Kuwaiti brothers and sisters, specifically the Kuwaitis who stayed in Kuwait and resisted the occupation.
Months later, as another example of failure in choosing sides, the battle for the liberation of Kuwait begins and Saddam Hussein strikes the capital of Saudi Arabia with missiles. That was the first time anybody launched missiles at the capital of Saudi Arabia. Even Israel did not launch missiles at the Kingdom. We were the ones, by the way, who bought these missiles for Saddam to support him in his war against the Persians.
Another shock followed when we saw deluded youths in Nablus dancing joyfully in celebration of the missile attack on Riyadh, holding pictures of Saddam Hussein. These incidents cannot be forgotten, but we rose above them, not for the sake of the Palestinian leaders, but for the Palestinian people.
From 2011 to date, our dear neighbor, Egypt, and the Egyptian leaders, from the time of Hosni Mubarak, may God rest his soul, to His Excellency President Sisi, have held conference after conference to reconcile the West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian authority and Hamas. How can this be? How can we speak in the name of all Palestine, and convince others to support our cause, when we ourselves are not united, and when the Palestinians are divided amongst themselves? However, history repeats itself and the facts are hard to ignore. This is not the first time they have disagreed, stabbed each other in the back, and accused each other of being traitors.
King Abdullah, may he rest in peace, while Prince Sultan was Crown Prince, brought Abu Mazen and his followers, and Khaled Mashal and his Hamas followers, to Mecca in order to reconcile them and form a unified Palestinian leadership to achieve positive results. They stayed at the official residence for guests in Mecca. Picture this: The Saudi delegation, headed by the late Prince Saud bin Faisal, and its members: Prince Muqrin, the late Ghazi Al Gosaibi, Mr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf and myself. We were going back and forth, visiting Abu Mazen and his group on the one hand and the Hamas delegation on the other. But our visits were not like [US former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger’s between Damascus and Tel Aviv or Cairo and Tel Aviv, we were going up and down between the hotel’s twelfth and fourteenth floors. It took a day and a half until we were able to reach an agreement that satisfied both parties.
Then, they went to meet King Abdullah. After he 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. Saud, 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.
I believe that we in Saudi Arabia, acting on our good will, have always been there for them. Whenever they asked for advice and help, we would provide them with both without expecting anything in return, but they would 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 and of the fact that they knew they should have taken our advice. We even went further as a state and justified to the whole world the actions of the Palestinians, while we knew that they, indeed, were not justified, but we did not wish to stand with anyone against them, nor did we wish to see the consequences of their actions reflected on the Palestinian people. This has always been the policy of the Saudi leadership. I think this has created a sense of indifference on their side, and they have become convinced 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.
I think the circumstances and times have changed, and I think it is only fair to the Palestinian people to know some truths that have not been discussed or have been kept hidden.
Who are the allies of the Palestinians now? Is it Iran, which is using the Palestinian cause as a pretext at the expense of the Palestinian people? Is it Iran and Khomeini, who want to liberate Jerusalem through Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria? The path to Jerusalem is known, that is if they truly wish to take it. Or is it Turkey, which Hamas leaders have thanked for its stance in support of Hamas and the Palestinian cause? That is simply because Erdogan announced that he was withdrawing his ambassador from the UAE in support of the Palestinian cause. Can anyone explain to me why Hamas leaders, instead of asking Erdogan to withdraw the Turkish ambassador from the UAE and pay to fly him back home, why they did not ask him to expel the Israeli ambassador from Ankara and call back the Turkish ambassador from Tel Aviv?
These people, as I have said before, are disillusioned, and in the undisputed words of God the Almighty: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” So far, they are undoubtedly a major reason behind the setbacks the Palestinian cause has faced.
In 1939, the British Mandate decided to hold a conference in London and invited the Jews who were in Palestine, alongside the Palestinian leadership and some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. Our delegation was headed by Prince Faisal and included Prince Khalid, may their souls rest in peace. Both the Jews and the Palestinians rejected the offer made by the English. The Arab States, including Saudi Arabia, supported the Palestinians in their rejection.
Shortly after, Britain entered World War II, and Palestine became a secondary issue to them. Meanwhile, armed groups, which we call armed gangs, were formed in Israel and were attacking Palestinian civilians, assassinating and murdering them, and carrying out acts of terrorism. Palestinian resistance groups were also struggling for the freedom of their country.
In 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, the late King Abdulaziz met with the late President Roosevelt and, and the Palestinian cause took up much of the discussion. This was in February 1945. A couple of weeks later, in March 1945, King Abdulaziz sent a lengthy letter to President Roosevelt to put down in writing what he had said to him verbally, and to get an answer. President Roosevelt replied. All these documents exist, and I am presenting them to the Saudi citizens so as to inform them of how Saudi Arabia’s stance towards Palestine was formed before all the events that have happened.
Two more events took place in 1945. The first was the founding of the League of Arab States with five or six members, including Saudi Arabia.
Newsreader: “To lay the foundations for an alternative Islamic state to the Ottoman caliphate.”
The second was the founding of the United Nations after the end of World War II. From 1945 to 1947, the English decided to withdraw and end the Mandate in Palestine. They began trying to find a compromise between the Jews and the Palestinians, one that the Arabs would support in order to bring some calm to the region. They could not reach a solution agreeable to all sides. So they resorted to the United Nations Security Council that had been formed only two years earlier. At that time, the Security Council was comprised of the US, the Soviet Union, France and Britain. The permanent members have the power to enforce any decision they make, and their veto is absolute. They voted on the partition Resolution 181, and from there on out, a certain way for dealing with events related to the Palestinian issue started taking shape and being repeated time and again.
The Jewish delegation was divided into two parts. One part officially agreed to the resolution, because it would establish two states in Palestine, one Palestinian and one Jewish. It was not a resolution that would completely guarantee Palestinian rights, but it would establish two internationally recognized states to become members of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The second part of the Jewish delegation rejected Resolution 181 and was planning to continue to carry out terrorist and subversive operations against Palestinian citizens. The two groups were in agreement, and one of them accepted the resolution and as a result, a Jewish State called Israel was recognized, which became a Member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we supported their rejection.
Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.
Then, the 1948 war took place as a result for the suffocation of the Palestinian people, and the Arab League countries decided to help them.
King Abdulaziz had specific advice to the brothers in the Arab League based on two points:
The first point was that Arab countries neighboring Palestine must not allow Palestinians to immigrate. Palestinians must remain on their land because if they immigrate, they will end up in refugee camps. King Abdulaziz believed that even if there was a need for camps, they should be on Palestinian soil, not anywhere else, and history has proven his opinion correct. Now, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are full of refugee camps. What if these refugee camps were inside Palestine? Just imagine how different the situation would have been in the country over time.
The second point on which King Abdulaziz, God rest his soul, based his opinion was that the Arab countries have a duty to support the Palestinians at home with money and arms, and to open the door to those of their citizens who wished to join the resistance. This was in an effort to encourage Arab immigration to Palestine similar to the Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Both points were rejected. Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is of the principle that God stands with those who are united, and those who stand divided are doomed to fail, we followed them down this tragic path and their decisions led everyone into the fire.
Between 1948 and 1956, two powerful permanent members of the Security Council, Britain and France, and a third power being Israel, led the tripartite aggression against Egypt. The aggression failed for two reasons.
The first reason is that the US and President Eisenhower rejected this aggression and demanded the withdrawal of the attacking forces and cessation of the attack. The Soviet Union had the same stance, so the attackers had no choice but to withdraw.
The second reason is Egyptian national resistance at home. President Abdel Nasser, God rest his soul, chose to back the resistance in the cities of the Canal, instead of pushing the Egyptian army into an uneven war against two superpowers.
A piece of information often left out is that a result of the Tripartite Aggression and the occupation of the Suez Canal by France and Britain was Israel occupying all of Sinai. Britain and France withdrew, and Israel insisted that it would only withdraw at a price. What did it demand? First, lifting the embargo imposed by the Arab countries, especially Egypt as the largest country, and opening the Gulf of Aqaba so ships can move to and from the Israeli port of Eilat. Second, having international emergency forces monitor the Egyptian-Israeli borders. This point is important because one of the sparks that set off the 1967 war, besides Israel's intent to go on an all-out war, was when Egypt closed the Gulf of Aqaba and the emergency forces were withdrawn. The result was the Six-Day War, which was a great catastrophe for the Arab nation and Egypt, in particular, as well as the Palestinian people and their cause.
Why did the Nakba of 1967 happen? Because President Abdel Nasser, God rest his soul, made a strategic decision that was based on inaccurate or false information from the military leadership that existed at the time. He had an inaccurate idea about the situation of his troops on the ground. The result of that is known. The result of 1967: Sinai was occupied by Israel, Gaza was occupied by Israel, the West Bank was occupied by Israel, the Golan was occupied by Israel and, most importantly, Jerusalem was lost. So, if this is not a historical disaster and a terrible defeat in every sense, then I do not know what is. However, Abdel Nasser, may God have mercy on his soul, from the day the Six-Day War ended until he died in 1970, did two things:
The first is that he did everything in his power to rebuild the Egyptian military.
The second thing was the effort he exerted to save the Palestinians from themselves, because the Palestinians were largely present in Jordan, with Abu Ammar’s leadership based there, and they decided for one reason or another that it was time to liberate not Palestine, but Jordan. They decided to take over Jordan. Among those who defended Jordan was the King, the Jordanian army, the Jordanian people, and the Saudi army. Yes, the Saudi army, which has participated in all Palestinian-Arab wars with Israel.
In 1948, although we advised that it was better for the Palestinians to remain in their land while we provided them with arms, money, and men; it did not come to be. They decided to go to war and King Abdulaziz ordered the Saudi Army to enter the war with them on the Egyptian front. Fighting alongside their Egyptian brothers, the Saudi Army entered Palestinian land and did very well. Egyptian leaders commended their bravery at the time as 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. As a result of all this, Palestinians were forced to immigrate again from Jordan to Lebanon. They had only been in Lebanon a few years when they began to behave as they did in Jordan, and Lebanon became the new target. With the Palestinians in Lebanon, the Palestinian war led to the civil war, the price of which Lebanon is paying to this day. The war resulted in the Israeli invasion, and for the first time, they reached an Arab capital.
In 1967 … despite in the early 1960s, there was a strong disagreement between the Kingdom and Egypt regarding Yemen, and when the aggression against Egypt took place in 1967, Egyptian airplanes had been striking Jizan and Najran in the Kingdom from Yemeni land only weeks earlier. When the aggression took place, the Kingdom offered to support Egypt with anything in our power. They asked us to host the Egyptian Air Force units that were in Yemen and for some of the airplanes that they sent to Sudan to be hosted in Jeddah, and we agreed.
I remember an incident that would highlight to the Saudi citizens the ethics of their leaders, in contrast with some unethical members of the Palestinian leadership. The late Mansour Shuaibi, the Jeddah district commander, suggested to Prince Sultan, the then minister of defense, that we take pictures and record the presence of Egyptian planes in the Kingdom, so that if a second dispute with Egypt should take place, we would publish the evidence of the help we extended to them. Prince Sultan replied that he would ask King Faisal, God rest his soul. King Faisal was very angry at the request and refused to do such a thing while our Egyptian brothers were facing an Israeli aggression. He refused to gloat and he made sure General Mansour was informed that if any of the men was caught taking a picture; his hand would be cut off. This is how Saudis stand by their Arab brothers.
The Saudi army was mobilized in Tabuk and moved to the Jordanian front, which is the closest area to us. We wanted to aid our Arab brothers within our capabilities. By the time they entered Jordan, the war was over.
King Hussein and Abdel Nasser requested that Saudi troops remain in Jordan and they did remain from 1967 to 1973. So, you see, we took part in every battle. When the war of 1973 took place, Jordan took a sovereign decision not to enter the war. The last time it entered the war, the West Bank and Jerusalem were lost, they did not want to take any more risks. Egypt and Saudi Arabia respected King Hussein’s decision. King Faisal said that our forces could stand by on the front and simply observe what is happening. He ordered that the forces be sent to Syria. Indeed, the forces in Jordan went to Syria and fought alongside their Syrian brothers on the Golan front in the 1973 war and clashes until the cease-fire. The Saudi forces remained in the Golan from 1973 to 1978 or 1979. We do not need anyone to patronize us about aiding the Arab nations and helping to carry the weight of their misfortunes. We share with our brothers and help them achieve success for the Arab nation, and we also stand with them in their dark times, through words as well as actions. This is what Saudi citizens need to understand.
Why do I say this, and why now particularly? Because at this time, the situation has changed completely from what it used to be. Now in the information age, the majority of the world’s citizens get their news from Facebook, the Internet, social media, and so on. No one reads newspapers anymore except a few, and television programs are sometimes dishonest, and just as a reminder, some channels give messages that are false and that direct hatred against the Gulf countries and their leaders, such as Al Manar and the other Iranian channels such as Al-Jazeera, which represents Qatar. Qatar, to be honest, is on the margins. The Qatari people are our dear and beloved brothers. The state, however, is not worth a mention or a reaction whatsoever. The best thing is to do is to ignore it. Surely, you all know that they say ticks can drive camels mad. That is true, but my brothers and sisters, ticks are ticks and camels will always be camels, and that sums it up from my point of view.
In 1967, there were zero settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan, and Sinai.
In 1970, three years later, there were about 30,000 in the West Bank.
In 1973, the year of the Ramadan War and the October War, there were over 100,000.
In 1978, when the Camp David peace treaty was signed, there were about 300,000, according to various data sources.
Today, there are more than 600,000 settlers.
While the Arabs were preparing for war, such as the war in which the Arab dignity and honor were restored by the Egyptian army, and Egypt went to Camp David, meanwhile, the initiative of UN Resolution 242 was presented and rejected by the Palestinians. The Camp David agreement was rejected by the Palestinians and by the Arabs. 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 in the Camp David Treaty and considered this peace treaty a betrayal to the Arab nation.
What was Israel doing during this period? It built settlements, occupied more land, and strengthened itself and its army. They were fighting us on all fronts, paying attention to major details and leaving the minor issues behind. Who cares for the support of North Korea? Israel was working on increasing its influence, while the Arabs were busy with each other. The Palestinians and their leaders led these disputes among the Arabs.
After the Oslo Accord, I asked Abu Ammar, God rest his soul - and as they say remember the virtues of your dead - what he thought of the autonomy provisions in the Camp David Treaty. He said, “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 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.
Interview transcript part two
Extract from part one: “My first reaction was anger. The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful – I recalled events I was witness to.”
“Between late 1977 and early 1978, the late Prince Fahd (at that time) visited President Carter, where they discussed the Palestinian cause, as Saudi leaders became accustomed to not meeting anybody without the Palestinian cause dominating half, if not three quarters, of the discussions. King Fahd was trying to encourage President Carter to do something and get the Palestinian cause moving. Carter expressed his readiness to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people, open a PLO office in Washington, and allow US diplomatic officials to start holding talks with Palestinian officials. In exchange, the PLO had to recognize the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338 and declare that all the countries of the region have the right to live in peace.
King Fahd, who was the Kingdom’s Crown Prince at that time, returned home and asked Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] to visit him in Taif, and he did. King Fahd told him about President Carter’s offer, saying that they were just four lines that needed to be written down and signed by Abu Ammar before being handed to the American ambassador, while a specific time will be set the day after for both parties to announce the agreement at the same time.
Then something happened which I saw with my own eyes ... I did not witness these discussions but I was later told about them directly by King Fahd, Prince Saud and President Carter. I saw Abu Ammar dancing, laughing, and saying, “Palestine is free.” Prince Fahd told him that “we were just getting started and Palestine will hopefully be free,” then asked him if he was ready to sign. Abu Ammar said that he is ready but asked for some time to fly to Kuwait and discuss with his comrades before coming back the second day for the announcement.
Prince Fahd told him that he could simply use the phone to call and inform them but Abu Ammar preferred to go meet them directly in person. Prince Fahd then suggested asking the Emir of Kuwait to fly them on board an airplane to Saudi Arabia the same night so Abu Ammar could discuss with them and get moving the second day but, once again, Abu Ammar asked for a chance to go to Kuwait and Prince Fahd agreed. So, he went to Kuwait and no one heard from him for several days, while the American ambassador was calling Prince Saud and informing him that Washington was waiting. At the end, he informed him that all of President Carter’s advisers were against the offer, while Carter insisted on keeping his word as this opportunity should not be lost. Ten days later, Abu Ammar’s written response arrived. In it, he thanked King Fahd, and attached to it was the official written letter sent to President Carter as agreed. Prince Fahd reviewed the letter and noticed that Abu Ammar had included 10 conditions the US had to accept in order for him to approve the UN resolutions 242 and 338 and recognize that all the countries of the region have the right to live in peace. Prince Fahd said to himself that even the Soviet Union did not set any conditions for the US; does he really believe that the US will agree to his conditions?
One of the officials present with King Fahd then told him that he had done his part and that this was the response of the Palestinian brothers, which he should on pass to the US and see what happens. Prince Fahd disagreed and said that: “If this letter is delivered to the Americans, it will be leaked to everyone, the press and congress, which will push the anti-Palestinian groups to attack them and make the situation worse, while we are trying to make a positive change. Let’s keep Abu Ammar’s letter here and write a letter from me to Carter, saying ‘The Saudi government has studied the offer and considered it from all sides but your offer did not convince us, Mr. President, and therefore we will not hand it over to the Palestinians.’ Give the letter to the American ambassador so he can deliver it to President Carter. Because we are ready to take responsibility vis-a-vis the Americans for not facilitating the process; we do not want the Palestinians to be held responsible for the failure.”
This happened time and time again but you have never heard a Saudi official discussing it. Did you ever hear any Saudis talking about what that happened in 1977, 1978 through 1990 when the Palestinians supported Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait, or as a response for them going out in the street and waving photos of Saddam Hussein in Nablus when Riyadh was hit with missiles? No, because we have an objective, which is to serve the Palestinian people because we believe that their cause is a just one. However, it is not our fault that God gave them such leaders. As I already mentioned, we are dealing with a just cause with bad advocates, while the Israelis are dealing with an unjust cause with successful advocates, whether we like it or not. This is the reality and the results on the ground.
In 1985, as I was the Saudi ambassador to the US, President Reagan asked me to ask Prince Fahd for a favor for him. The favor was that they had a problem in Nicaragua, where Congress was supporting the Contras but had to cut their aid due to partisan disputes between the Republicans and the Democrats. This took place during a sensitive stage of the war in Nicaragua and the Americans thought that Saudi Arabia could help fill this gap for two months. They asked me to pass the request on to King Fahd, who told me to convey his approval and express our readiness to help. He said, “Bandar, this is an investment with Reagan, and one day I’ll withdraw my investment.” I did as I was told and Reagan was very happy. A lot of people may ask, “What does Saudi Arabia have to do with Nicaragua and the Contras?” The truth is that we had nothing to do with them, but we had interests. If you asked anybody back then in the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah or Al-Jouf about the Contras or Nicaragua, they would tell you that they are the names of diseases or something else. They had nothing to do with us, but there was a strategic relation that only a person who thinks strategically could see.
For King Fahd, Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union and we supported the Jihadis there, while the Americans approved of this position. So, we had to make sure the Americans would continue to support us until the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. We had interests here, they had interests there. We wanted to secure their continued support in Afghanistan.
In 1986, King Fahd asked me to propose to President 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. This took place during the period between King Fahd’s initiatives in 1981 and 1982. They did not agree to the 1981 initiative in Fez because they objected to the point that expressed “the right of all regions to live in peace”, which was later approved in Oslo. As I have told you, history repeats itself. They’ve always say that we do not support them but we know that we are protecting them. Then they come and say that they accept an offer that is no longer on the table and so on. The grey hair that I have is because of them and their lost opportunities, and thinking how we had certain circumstances and we had a strong influence that could have enabled us to do something.
Anyway, President Reagan agreed but the Secretary of State [George] Shultz did not. I later learned that Shultz was not aware of the arrangement we had made with Reagan concerning the Contras so I told him about it. I took a letter saying that if the Palestinians recognize UN Resolution 242, just like in Carter’s offer, 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 directly. I went there and met Abu Ammar, may God have mercy on his soul, where I saw what they told me had happened after Carter’s offer. Abu Ammar 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 can 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. I assured him that King Fahd did not doubt his feelings and if he went to King Hussein, made the declaration first and got the desired response from the Americans, King Fahd would warmly welcome him. This he refused. I agreed to let him go to the Kingdom, and 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.
In Lebanon, there was an attack targeting the Palestinians in South Lebanon, while the Syrian Army in Tripoli surrounded Abu Ammar. King Fahd was upset by the Israelis attacking and killing Palestinians in South Lebanon. He ordered me to go and deliver an urgent letter to President Reagan, saying that the US must take a stand. I went and met with the Secretary of State Shultz to tell him that the King wanted this message quickly delivered to President Reagan that same night. He said he would do it but also informed me that according to Reagan’s policy, Shultz had the authority to directly go to the pressroom at the State Department and condemn Israel and its operations against the Palestinians and ask them to stop. I was overjoyed, however, he said he would do so on the condition that I accompany him and condemn the Syrians for targeting the Palestinians and ask them to stop. I thought to myself, this cause is so unfortunate, every time there’s a glimmer of hope, something new comes up, just as [Saudi Arabia’s] Prince Khalid Al-Faisal once said. I told Shultz that we were asking the US to take a stand against Israel and that we would work things out with the Syrians. What I am trying to say is that there were always new opportunities but they were always lost.
During King Fahd’s visit to the US in 1985, two incidents took place:
The first incident happened on the first day of the visit. King Fahd’s meetings with President Reagan were all positive and an official banquet was scheduled that night. We were happy because they had launched a new initiative and were exerting efforts that later resulted in Shultz meeting with Abu Ammar in Geneva. When the king got back to his residence that day, President Reagan’s National Security Adviser [Robert McFarlane] called me asking for a copy of the speech King Fahd was going to deliver that night. I agreed to send him the speech and asked if it is possible for them to send us a copy of the president’s speech. He apologized saying that in line with the tradition of the US government, the president’s speech cannot be circulated and will later be distributed to the press. To be honest, I wasn’t that concerned, but doubt started to creep in. When I told King Fahd about the entire exchange, he agreed to me sending them a copy of his speech. We attended the dinner, the entire Saudi delegation, and the president was sitting with King Fahd at the table. As I was seated to the right of the vice-president, George Bush senior at the time, King Fahd started waving at me. Bush saw him and told me. So, I stood up and walked over to the king. It was an official dinner attended by around 150 guests, half of whom were journalists. I was wearing the Saudi national dress, and when I stood up people noticed and were wondering why I was going to speak with the king. King Fahd then asked me to go outside, call for the national security adviser and tell him that the king wanted the president to delete the entire paragraph related to the Middle East from his speech. “If he refuses, I will say something in response to that paragraph. The president will not like it and this visit will turn into something negative,” he added. I was about to ask him what he meant but he told me to just go. I went outside and started trying to get McFarlane’s attention before stopping one of the attendants, who went in and told him to meet me outside. He came to me, asked if everything was OK, and I conveyed the king’s request. “What happened? How did the king know about this paragraph in the speech?” he asked me. “I do not know. The king did not tell me anything,” I replied. He then asked me if it was serious and I assured him it was because King Fahd does not joke in serious times, he only smiles, but beware his smile when he is upset. McFarlane went back to his table, took a menu, wrote something on the back and passed it to one of the attendants to give to President Reagan. The president read it, gave his speech to the same attendant to pass it to McFarlane who took a pen and started crossing out the relevant paragraph before passing the speech back to Reagan. As I was still standing outside, McFarlane looked at me to signal me that it was done, and I passed the message to King Fahd, who just nodded his head. The vice-president asked me what had happened but I told him that I had no idea. President Reagan delivered his speech. He thanked the king and praised the bilateral relations that date back to President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz, in line with the usual speech between the US and Saudi. He then added that “I know that the king encourages the youth and sports and that you have football teams visiting other countries. I wish you a successful visit and that you feel comfortable in our country.” People applauded. Then the king stood up, and without taking his speech out of his pocket, said the same things, thanked the president for his hospitality and spoke of the bilateral relations since the time of King Abdulaziz and Roosevelt’s mandate, and then paused before adding “You are right Mr. President. We love to encourage the youth and sports, especially football. We have two young teams, one in Beijing, China and the other in Moscow, in the Soviet Union. The truth is that young people should be encouraged to be athletic. Thank you for the hospitality.” He sat back down, while the whole Saudi delegation including Prince Saud, was looking at me as if they were asking me about what had happened because the speech was originally full of talk of the Middle East! I said nothing. We finished and King Fahd asked Prince Saud Al-Faisal and myself to accompany him. We got in the car, he did not say a word. When we arrived at the residence, he turned towards Prince Saud and asked him if he had liked his speech. Prince Saud replied, “You are always right.” He did not ask me anything.
When the king got to the residence, he asked for me. He wondered if I was curious to know what had happened and I said yes. He explained by saying that “The Minister of Media told me that the speech will be broadcast live in the Kingdom and I wanted to give you guidance as to what your first reaction should be because as soon as you leave here you will receive many phone calls, the first of which will be from Prince Abdullah, Prince Sultan, Prince Salman and Prince Naif. You tell them that you do not know anything and I will talk to them when I come back. All I can tell you is that this is because of you, it has been on my mind ever since you told me that they refused to give us the president’s speech in advance. When we attended the dinner, I asked the interpreter how he would interpret my speech and he told me that the Embassy had provided him with an English version. I said ‘Ok, but what about the president? How will you translate his speech into Arabic?’ He told me that he had an Arabic version of the president’s speech. I asked him if I could see it but he apologized saying that he had instructions and no one was allowed to see the speeches until after they were delivered. Then I changed my mind and spoke with Reagan in my limited English, but which got the message across. He asked them to give me a copy of the speech. He turned to the interpreter and asked him if he had an Arabic version of the speech and to show it to me.” This was not a sensitive matter for Reagan. It was normal for him.
The paragraph on the Middle East started as such: “President Carter, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin made history with the Camp David agreement. I hope that the Israeli Prime Minister, you, and I can make history once again.” This was the paragraph the king wanted removed. The king’s speech had parts about the Palestinian cause saying that it was a political one and that we wanted justice and peace through UN resolutions. The king said that since they had omitted their paragraph, we omitted ours. Everybody was wondering why King Fahd was talking about football and the Saudi teams in China and Russia under these sensitive circumstances. If the reasons were known, these questions would subside. As soon as I left, I was informed that the crown prince had called me along with Prince Sultan, Prince Naif and Prince Salman. I went and replied to all of them that I did not know anything. We had a speech, but then the king spoke in his own words.
What I mean to say is that we do not have false promises and empty slogans to sell to the people. We have positions and actions. If we look at the years from 1985 to 1993, the Palestinians were negotiating the Oslo Accords without informing the Egyptians. The late Hosni Mubarak told me in person that “After they had reached an agreement and before going to the Americans to set a date for the signature ceremony and the mutual recognition between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Rabin requested to meet me and I was made aware of the agreement by Rabin before the Palestinians even told us. I told Rabin that what is important is that they had reached an agreement. Can you believe that Bandar?” I replied by telling him that we have a saying that means that the leaders are wiser, “You are a president and those are also leaders. I cannot comment on what happened.”
The Oslo Accords took place, and Abu Ammar said the Camp David agreement was ten times better than Oslo. A lost opportunity. He asked them to go back to the self-rule agreement but they said that it was off the table and there was a new deal. What’s so painful is that it was the Palestinian people who suffered the most from this tragedy. I say this now for the Saudi citizens, our young men and women, so they can be aware of what happened. They should be proud of the positions taken by their nation and leadership. History shows and documents bear witness to what happened, and now I have shared it with you.
Interview transcript part three
The third part began with extracts from the second part: "After writing down everything we have discussed yesterday and then reading it, I said to myself, it might be best to improvise and speak frankly, the grey hair that I have is because of them… I told him he could use the plane I came on to go to Jeddah and we did not see him for a month... there were always new opportunities but they were always lost... They've always said no, and we've always supported them although we knew their rejection would backfire... but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me... Saudi citizens should be proud of the positions taken by their nation and leadership.”
Next came the Oslo Accords in 1993. What happened in Oslo is well known. Ammar [Yasser Arafat], [Israeli former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin, and [former President Simon] Peres went to Washington and signed the Oslo Accords and recognized each other, the thing that everybody was forbidden to do before. But we should not forget that that moment was an important stage during the period in which there was no positive movement toward the Palestinian cause, and despite all the events I mentioned, whether it was Abu Ammar going to Saddam [Hussein], or the dancing in Nablus in celebration of Riyadh being hit, and so on ... After all this, we had no relations, all relations with Abu Ammar and his people were cut, but we did not cut off our relations with the Palestinian cause. Palestine is not its leaders, Palestine is Palestine. They are the ones causing harm, not us, and if something happened like the boycott after the liberation of Kuwait and so on, they were the reason.
Immediately after the war, King Fahd ordered me to work with President Bush Sr. and Secretary of State [James] Baker to quickly achieve something for peace. Then Prince Saud, Baker, and I sat together in 1991. Discussions took place with [Soviet former President Mikhail] Gorbachev at the time, and there was an agreement to hold a peace conference in Madrid in October 1991. It was very important because it was sponsored by the two superpowers: the US and the Soviet Union. So we started planning for the Madrid conference, as I said, given its importance due to the fact that it was held under the auspices of the two superpowers and would be attended by President Bush and President Gorbachev. [Syria’s] President [Hafez] al-Assad decided not to attend, so King Fahd asked me to go and meet him. I met President al-Assad at his palace in Latakia, and after a long dialogue, I made clear to him King Fahd’s stance and that it served Syria and did not harm it, and served Arab influence vis-a-vis the Palestinian cause.
I said, “Mr. President, you have a burden which is the occupied Golan Heights, and we want to see it liberated, God willing, and the burden of the Palestinian cause. It is not possible for the entire Arab world to go, and the important Arab countries are the Gulf states as represented by their secretary general, whom I will accompany, then Egypt, the Palestinians, Jordan and Lebanon. The Lebanese said they would only go if you go. You are the Syrian President, and Syria would be absent while the two superpowers attended.”
He thought for a while, we were sitting in his salon opening out onto a large balcony overlooking the sea. On the balcony, I could see a young man from his security forces carrying a Kalashnikov and walking back and forth. May God have mercy on Hafez al-Assad, he had bad deeds and good deeds, but one thing about him that I recall is that he never lied to me. But for him to agree was one of the most difficult things, getting his approval... but once he agreed, he was committed.
He said to me, "I agree, and I will send our delegation headed by [former Foreign Minister] Faruq al-Sharaa, and of course if our Lebanese brothers want to go they can go." I said, "Mr. President, if you go, the Lebanese will go." He said OK, and the Lebanese foreign minister at the time was [Fares] Boueiz. He then said something to me I will never forget, he said, "Listen carefully, do you see that young man over there?" I said yes. He said, "After we announce that we are going to attend a face-to-face meeting in which Israel is present, I do not trust that I can turn my back to him." I then understood the size of the problem for him internally, security-wise and partisan-wise. Later, I thought about it, and it is actually not strange, you fill people’s heads and hearts with a certain idea, and suddenly an opportunity arises without you having the chance to convince the people with the wisdom and the public interest that this opportunity presents. Like what I am trying to do now with Saudi citizens.
I told him, "Mr. President, on the contrary, you are a role model for your people and they trust you. If you decide to do this, they will understand, God willing." We went to Madrid and the rest is history. A minor incident took place in Madrid. There was a Palestinian young man wearing a Palestinian keffiyyeh [traditional scarf] over his shoulder, and as Abdullah Bishara and I were going to enter the meeting room, we heard a heated discussion inside. We asked what was going on, and we were told that the Israeli delegation was objecting to this Palestinian wearing a keffiyyeh over his shoulder. We asked why. They said, "He can't come in wearing that, he needs to take it off and then come in." I saw the whole discussion was over nothing, but I was moved... first, their land was taken, and then he is told he cannot wear his keffiyyeh over his shoulder... I said, "Wait, if this Palestinian youth cannot come in wearing what he wants, something he considers patriotic, then I and Abdullah Bishara and the Gulf delegation will withdraw." When you stop to think after a decisive moment, you must be prepared and must be logical. As the saying goes, if you want to be gratified, request what is possible. So, I said "But I will remove this young man's keffiyyeh from his shoulder if the members of the Israeli delegation who are wearing head coverings remove them." The people we were talking to fell silent. Spanish security, American security and it appears there were Israelis as well. Anyway, then Jim Baker came and they told him what was going on, and he said, "Now I know why there is a problem in the Middle East. If you cannot agree if someone can wear their national dress then we have a bigger problem than I imagined." I said, "Jim, welcome to the Middle East." We laughed. Then he said, "Do not waste time. Presidents Bush and Gorbachev are on the way. Everyone should just go in and sit down however they want." So, we went in. Some people may think that this is a silly story, but it has a deeper meaning for anyone who wants to understand it.
After that event and after Oslo, in 1995 they began to negotiate with each other, and they no longer needed a mediator to sit with them or secret meetings. They started meeting publicly and so on.
In 1995, there were meetings attended by the Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis, but the Syrians insisted that this would not be a joint Arab-Israeli meeting. The Palestinians meet with the Israelis and the Syrians meet with the Israelis. When they first started, they would not sit in the same room, but then afterwards the meetings became face-to-face and so on. The negotiations went on from 1995 to 2000 but did not yield anything tangible.
In 2000, President al-Assad died, may God have mercy on him, and the Syrians stopped their activity for a certain period. The new president was a young man, he was trying to see what the next steps should be, and he did not have the same presence as his father in the country. A Palestinian-American meeting took place at Camp David in December 2000 where President Clinton presented his final plan. But by January, a month later, Clinton's term ended and a new president took office. The offer the Americans presented was rejected by the Palestinians, and after I was briefed on it and informed Prince Saud, and then Prince Abdullah, may they rest in peace, I got instructions that we also were rejecting it and to tell the Americans that we could not support this agreement.
As part of the mental games and manipulation of the Palestinian cause, Abu Ammar used to say that they had offered us something that we could not accept at Camp David, but what he did not say is that the Americans agreed that there was something wrong with it and that the offer needed to be improved. In January, there was a meeting between Abu Ammar and Clinton in which the final offer was presented, that - in my opinion - could have changed the shape of the whole map. The Palestinians were initially convinced, but others convinced them otherwise - or it was a lack of success from God – since he is the son of Bush Sr., who is said to have been a friend of the Saudis, then surely his son would also be their friend. Why would we make an agreement during the term of an outgoing president? We reach an agreement, then reject it and stop it, then when the new president comes, we accept the agreement.
I told the Palestinians that the idea they had was wrong, and that the new person who will come into office had an opinion on foreign policy that is different from what they expect, and that anything that they could secure from the Americans now was a commitment and was in their interest. They asked us to confirm this from the president-elect. I called president-elect Bush Jr. and told him, "The Palestinians believe they should not sign the agreement with President Clinton and are waiting for you to take office and sign the agreement during your term." George W. Bush said to me, "Bandar, you know me well, I want to tell you three things, the first you can say to the Palestinians, and the second and third points, you are free to say them or not. The first point is that America only has one president at a time. Tell them not to discuss with me what they plan to do after I become president. The other two points are for you, and if you want to tell them you can, which is that Camp David is not a hotel. I go to Camp David with my family to relax, or I go to meet with American officials. I am not opening Camp David as a hotel like Clinton used to do. The last thing is that I do not like to speak on the phone. I have been informed that Clinton used to talk with Abu Ammar for four hours on the phone. I do not even talk to my own mother for more than half an hour, so how would I talk to him for that long? Whatever I find signed by the American President, I am committed to it, and beyond that I have nothing for you."
I conveyed this to the Palestinians, who said, “But there is another problem." I asked what it was. I want to show how they did not want to reach a solution, to free the Palestinian people from their suffering. They said it was about Colin Powell, then designated secretary of state, who had an office already in preparation of the new president's term. They said "We have been informed that he received an Israeli delegation already. This is bias. Whereas we asked him and he said he did not have time to see us." I said to them, "I know Colin personally very well, and I am sure that his view will not be negative towards you, so do not bother him until after he becomes secretary of state." They insisted. So I called Secretary Powell, I implored him, "Please meet with the Palestinians, seeing as you met the Israelis, and it will not look good if you do not meet them." He thought for a minute and said, "OK, let them come, but just for fifteen minutes." I said, "Two minutes." They were happy, they went and saw him and came back. The Americans told me about their new offer, and they told me that the Palestinian delegation was happy with it.
I no longer trusted them not to let us down again, so I sought permission from Prince Abdullah and Prince Saud, may they rest in peace, and I went on my annual vacation at the end of the year. I was in Colorado, when Prince Abdullah called me and said "Abu Ammar is in Washington, and he asked me for you to return to Washington to be with them." I said, "With all due respect, if they agree, there is no reason for me to be there, and if they disagree then I am sure that my presence will not have any effect." But he said "Abu Ammar insisted, so I told him OK. And I coordinated with Hosni Mubarak that you and your colleague, the Egyptian ambassador, would go and see Abu Ammar."
I returned from Aspen and met with Abu Ammar at my house, along with the Egyptian ambassador, and we talked about the matter at hand, and how grateful and appreciative he was. I asked how things were going. He said "Things are good. There is just one little detail. Tomorrow morning we have a meeting at the White House, and after that the announcement will take place, but I have a request from you.” He meant me and my colleague Egyptian Ambassador Fahmy. We asked what the request was, and he said, "I want you to make sure that Prince Abdullah, King Hassan, and President Hosni Mubarak - right after we announce the agreement between Clinton and Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister of Israel - immediately declare their support so that it balances things out for us. And so that Syria does not give us trouble." The Egyptian ambassador said to him, "Mr. President, if you announce it, not only will they declare their support they will come here and support it if you like." I said, "I agree, once Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt declare support, I assure you that the Gulf states will support you, and Jordan will support you, no problem in this regard." He said OK, and left.
The next day I asked my friend, the Egyptian ambassador, "What do you think?" He said, "I am starting to have doubt." I said, "You call through your channels and I will call the Americans through my channels, and we will see how things are, and if needed, you and I can intervene quickly, and if we cannot, then at least we can inform our leaders to move quickly, there will not be other chances, tomorrow is decisive." The next day we got a call mid-morning, saying that Abu Ammar wanted to see me and the Egyptian ambassador right away at the hotel he was staying at. We went in to him, greeted him and sat down. He did not seem like his usual self, so I asked him, "Abu Ammar, please reassure us." He said, "Good news, it went through." I said, "Are you sure?" He said yes. "Why did you not announce it?" He said, "There is just a small matter related to security, I am waiting now for the head of the CIA - George Tenet at the time - because there is a simple amendment to be made, maybe linguistic or something, and after we finish, I will return to the White House." I said, "Thank you for the great news." Fahmy said, "Congratulations, Mr. President."
At that moment, the Saudi accompanying officer, Major General Nayef Al-Muzaini, came in and gave me a piece of paper. I opened it, it was a message saying "We would like Bandar to contact the White House as soon as possible because the president's national security adviser wants to talk with him." I closed the paper and looked at Abu Ammar, and said "With your permission, Mr. President, I need to go out and take a call." He said, "No, take the phone call from here." I said, "No, I want to speak outside." He said, "Why when there is a phone in the room?” I said, "Abu Ammar, this is a personal family issue, I will go out and make the call and be right back." I went out, and phoned the national security advisor who told me "Abu Ammar is late, there is no time left, and we need to know his response." I said, "Abu Ammar says that you have agreed and that is that." He said, "What he is saying is not true." I said, "How so? He said, "It is not true." Then the voice changed, it was President Clinton, he was in the room, and he took the receiver and talked to me. He said, "Listen, Bandar, I offered an agreement that no one before me ever offered the Palestinians, and two days ago Ehud Barak called and said, “I cannot go through this agreement because I do not have support for it in Israel and in my government.” And I told Barak, “This agreement that we reached with you will not be changed, and if you withdraw from it or reject it, I will publicly declare that Israel has failed in the peace agreement that was proposed and previously approved.” So I told Abu Ammar the same thing and now he wants to change some paragraphs; I do not accept changing them and we cannot change them. And I have Israeli approval now, if Abu Ammar came here I will make this announcement with him, Barak will come here and the three of us will meet and announce the agreement." I said, "But Abu Ammar says that he agrees, Mr. President." He said, "He is lying, he said he would be back in half an hour, and we have been waiting for him for two hours."
I wanted to cry, my heart was burning at how the opportunity was lost again and perhaps for the last time, as if I was seeing a movie playing in front of my eyes. An opportunity comes, and it is lost. After it is lost, we agree on what we rejected, and we put it on the table. Then people say that there is nothing on the table, and so on over and over. As the saying goes, with repetition you become cleverer. With all due respect to our viewers, the Saudi people and the Palestinian people.
But this is what happened. I went back to the room. I said, "Abu Ammar, I am going to ask you a question for the last time. Have you and President Clinton agreed?" He said yes. I said, "Congratulations." He stood up and hugged us. Then I asked for his permission to leave. He said, "No, do not go. Stay here with us until we are done." I said, "But you are done." He said, "No, please, you must stay and celebrate with us." I told him, "Listen Abu Ammar, the ambassador of Egypt, the largest Arab country, is here, my brother and colleague Fahmy who represents all Arabs will stay here with you." The Egyptian ambassador looked at me as if to say, 'What is happening?', and then I added "but I must go because my family is in the place I left them on vacation. I wholeheartedly congratulate you, and I will watch it on TV and share in your joy. And at the first opportunity, I will tell Prince Abdullah, Prince Saud, and our officials that, praise God, Palestine has been liberated, just as Abu Ammar said it would be." He insisted that I do not go, he took hold of me and pulled me, and I kept pulling away, all the way to the elevator, he would not let go of me. Finally, I said to him, "Abu Ammar, I need to travel. What do you want? If you are telling the truth and you have reached an agreement, then what do you need me for?"
The officers who were with me and the American security opened the elevator, and I got in and went down, and got into my car. I said, "Head for the airport, we will leave tonight as soon as the plane is ready." I called Prince Abdullah, who said "So, Bandar, is it a lion or a hyena?" I said, "By God, I did not expect a lion, just a hyena, I do not know.” He said, "How come?" I said, "Abu Ammar is saying, 'We have reached an agreement,' and Clinton just talked to me and he says, 'We have not reached an agreement, and if he does not sign, I will withdraw the entire agreement and I will not transfer it to the next president, because he does not want us to leave unfinished business for him.'" He said, "For goodness sakes, Bandar." I said, "As you can see, this is what’s happening." He said, "What will you do?" I said, "I want to go back to my family if you give me permission." He told me to go ahead. And that was that.
Despite all that happened, I received directives to ask Clinton not to hold Palestine fully responsible. After some back and forth and calls from Prince Abdullah himself to President Clinton, he said, "Ok, I will declare that we have not reached a solution."
After the new president, George W. Bush, came to office, Prince Abdullah made a second attempt and a great effort. He visited the US and visited the president on his ranch, and important points were reached. Bush agreed that in late August, early September, when he was going to give a speech in front of the UN, that he would include a paragraph on the Palestinian cause, and that he would recognize both the Palestinian and Israeli states, and that work was being done to achieve this goal, and to add some paragraphs that the Palestinians were demanding. President Bush assigned Secretary of State Colin Powell, Head of the CIA George Tenet, and his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to meet with me and to write this paragraph in the speech in the way that we agreed upon. And after lots of back and forth, referring back to Riyadh and to the Palestinians, we finally arrived at a semi-agreed upon text.
On September 8, Colin called me and said, "Tomorrow I have to go to Latin America, there is a meeting of the countries of South America, and I have to give a speech there. I return on the night of September 10, on September 11 let us meet and finish this. Then I’ll send it to the President for final approval, and we’ll go to New York." I agreed. We called the others to meet on the 11th in order to activate the Palestinian cause in the first year of the new president's term. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be.
The day of September 11 requires no explanation. The Palestinian cause became the least concern for America and for much of the world, until some other attempts were made later on.
Going back to the reason why I bring all this up now, it is because our dear Saudi citizens and our brothers and sisters in neighboring Gulf countries need to know what their leaders and countries have done in service of the Palestinian issue, with complete dedication. And that if there is now a denial of this on behalf of the Palestinian leaders, this will not affect our attachment to the cause of the Palestinian people. But with these people [the leaders] it is difficult to trust them and to do something for the Palestinian cause with them around.
In my personal opinion, with all the events that have taken place around the world, we are at a stage in which rather than being concerned with how to face the Israeli challenges in order to serve the Palestinian cause, we have to pay attention to our national security and interests. New players came into the picture, claiming that they are serving the Palestinian cause and that the Palestinian cause is their priority, and that Jerusalem is their first goal. These are countries such as Iran and Turkey, and the Palestinian leaders have come to regard Tehran and Ankara higher than they regard Riyadh, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Manama, Oman, Muscat, and Cairo.
As I said before, God says in the Holy Book, "My Lord, forgive me and my parents." Knowing that Heaven is under the feet of mothers. We never made any violations, and never violated God's law. We are followers, given that we live in this challenging era, and the duty of our leaders is to preserve our national security and the security, economic, welfare, and social interests of our peoples. We are surrounded by a stormy sea all around us, and we are one of the few [stable] countries - islands in the middle of this sea. We owe it to our peoples to maintain this situation that we live in.
Egypt is the largest Arab country and a great nation, and works day and night to lift the Palestinians up from all the challenges and restrictions imposed on the people of Gaza by Israel, [but] is facing a hotspot for terrorism from which terrorists enter Sinai and Egypt and commit crimes. O people, we do not see God with our eyes but we believe in Him with our minds. Neither the Egyptian people, nor the people of the Gulf and many Arab nations are pleased with what we see.
Turkey occupies Libya and wants to liberate Jerusalem by withdrawing its ambassador from Abu Dhabi.
Iran wants to liberate Jerusalem through the Houthis in Yemen or through Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
Things are clear and we are at our limit with those guys. And now, I have conveyed what was in my heart and spoken directly to the audience that concerns me and to our citizens. Everything that I said is documented and known, and I am going to start a social media account, Twitter, etc., and I will post all these documents and everything I talked about on this account. Anyone who wants more details can find them there, otherwise I could spend ten hours telling you all the details, which I will not do.
I hope and ask God Almighty that I have faithfully fulfilled my obligation, so that we do not allow liars, cheaters, those who are disloyal and who deny what was done for them, to impose their traditions and their way of dealing with each other on us. We also have our own history, we know it and we know theirs, and this is what I wanted to explain to my fellow citizens, given the crucial importance of this stage and the circumstances we are experiencing now. And Allah is the grantor of success.
Thank you for giving me the time to talk about this with you.