Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar bin Sultan calls out Palestinian leaders over peace deal

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Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan has called out the Palestinian leadership for its rejection of the UAE-Israel peace deal.

“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,” said Prince Bandar in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.

Prince Bandar, who served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US from 1983 to 2005 and the Kingdom’s intelligence chief from 2014 to 2016, said the criticism of the UAE and other Gulf countries following the deal with Israel had been “painful to hear.”

Palestinian leaders including President Mahmoud Abbas have described the UAE’s decision to normalize ties with Israel as a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people.”

Abbas later backtracked and banned offensive statements about other Arab leaders, following a request from GCC Secretary-General Nayef al-Hajraf to apologize.

According to Prince Bandar, the reaction of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank reflected their broader failures.

“Gaza Strip leaders, who have seceded from the PA to govern Gaza independently, accuse the West Bank leadership of treason, while at the same time, West Bank leadership has accused separatist Gaza Strip leaders of stabbing them in the back,” he said.

“Efforts in the past years would have been better spent 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,” Prince Bandar added.

Bahrain followed the UAE and agreed to normalize relations with Israel on September 15, and both countries have said they remain committed to a just solution for Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said that the Kingdom’s stance on the Palestinian cause is “firm” and “will not change” in response to the peace agreements.

Palestinian leaders have history of “failure”

Prince Bandar said that while the Palestinian cause is “just,” its leaders have a history of failure.

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures. The Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates are successful. That sums up the events of the last 70 or 75 years,” he told Al Arabiya.

Prince Bandar pointed to the example of Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian religious leader who was one of the main leaders of the Palestinian cause while the country was under the British mandate from 1918 to 1948.

Al-Husseini was known to have sympathies to Nazi Germany as an alternative backer to undermine British rule over Palestine. The Palestinian uprising against British rule known as the Arab Revolt from 1936 to 1939 was a disaster for the Palestinian people, leaving one in ten men exiled, imprisoned, or dead; al-Husseini’s pro-German approach crumbled with the defeat of Nazism in World War II.

Prince Bandar also criticized Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, who he referred to as Abu Ammar, for siding with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War in 1990.

Arafat visited dictator Hussein in 1990 during the short-lived Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

“Kuwait was then an occupied Arab nation, and it had, alongside the other Gulf states, always welcomed the Palestinians with open arms and was home to Palestinian leaders,” explained Prince Bandar.

“Yet we saw Abu Ammar in Baghdad, embracing, laughing and joking with Saddam, congratulating 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,” he said.

Prince Bandar said that Saudi Arabia had not reacted against the Palestinian leadership, even when images had emerged showing young Palestinians in Nablus celebrating and holding images of Hussein when Iraqi rockets hit Riyadh during the Gulf War.

More recently, he criticized the failure of different Palestinian groups to come to an agreement in peace talks held in Egypt.

“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?” he said.

Read more: Suha Arafat apologizes to UAE on behalf of Palestinians following Israel deal protest

Saudi Arabian support for Palestine

Saudi Arabia has historically supported Palestine despite its leadership’s mistakes, said Prince Bandar.

The prince outlined the history of Saudi Arabian support for the Palestinians, including the 1945 meeting between King Abdulaziz ibn Saud and US President Franklin Roosevelt, in which the king lobbied for the Palestinian cause.

More recently, Prince Bandar pointed to an initiative under Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah that aimed to unify the Palestinian leadership.

According to the prince, Hamas and the PA had agreed to a deal in Mecca after intensive Saudi Arabian brokering.

“Only a few days after they left Saudi Arabia, we received news that each side had already dishonored their agreement and gone back to conspiring against each other once again,” he said.

This reflected the failure of the Palestinian organizations, who had taken Saudi Arabian support for granted, added Prince Bandar.

“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 without expecting anything in return, but they would take the help that we provide and ignore the advice. Then they would fail and turn back to us again, and we would support them again, regardless of their mistakes, about which were honest to them,” he said.

“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 been kept hidden,” he added.

According to Prince Bandar, Palestinians were wrong to look to either Iran or Turkey as their ally.

“Who are the allies of the Palestinians now? Is it Iran, which is using the Palestinian cause as a bargaining card at the expense of the Palestinian people? Iran and Khomeini, who want to liberate Jerusalem through Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria?”

“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,” he added.

Prince Bandar also discussed other elements of the history of the Palestinian cause, including Saudi Arabia’s policy under King Abdulaziz and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Read the full transcript of the interview here.