Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders passed up and hindered offers to secure a lasting peace process to the Israel-Palestine conflict, said Saudi Arabia’s former Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan on Tuesday.
In the second episode of a three-part exclusive interview with Al Arabiya, Prince Bandar shared inside information into the difficulties of the Palestinian peace process, as a veteran Saudi diplomat who served for more than 20 years in Washington.
According to Prince Bandar, who later became the Kingdom’s intelligence chief and head of national security, the Palestinian leadership undermined the peace negotiations at several stages despite Saudi Arabian efforts to secure a deal.
Prince Bandar revealed that both US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan reportedly showed willingness to secure a deal that would recognize Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to kick-start peace talks.
However Arafat failed to agree to these offers, according to Bandar.
He added that Saudi Arabia covered the Palestinian leadership on these occasions to help them save face, despite their apparent failures.
Here is an in-depth examination of the two apparent lost opportunities, as told by Prince Bandar.
Late 1970s: Arafat undermines Carter initiative
Prince Bandar recalled that between late 1977 and early 1978, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (who later ruled as king from 1982 to 2005) had worked to secure a peace initiative with President Jimmy Carter.
According to Prince Bandar, Carter expressed his readiness to recognize the PLO, headed by Arafat, which the US and Israel then considered a terrorist organization. The US and Israel later recognized the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people.
“King Fahd was trying to encourage President Carter to do something and get the Palestinian cause moving,” said Bandar.
“Carter expressed his readiness to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization 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,” he explained.
In exchange, the US wanted the PLO to recognize United Nations Resolution 242 – which called for the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from territories it occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War – and Resolution 338.
Adopted in October 1973, Resolution 338 called for an end to the 1973 War, the implementation of Resolution 242, and the beginning of negotiations.
These resolutions - later accepted by the Palestinians - are now broadly seen as a favorable outcome in the context of Israel’s failure to withdraw from occupied territories and its ongoing settlement building.
However, Arafat reportedly spurned the opportunity after initially welcoming the agreement, said Prince Bandar.
“I saw Abu Ammar [Arafat’s popular name] 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,” he recalled.
However, Arafat insisted on wasting time by flying to Kuwait to consult with other Palestinian leaders exiled there, during which time President Carter’s advisers began to waver on the deal, said Prince Bander.
Ten days later, said Prince Bandar, Arafat finally replied via letter, making 10 demands of the US as part of his condition for accepting.
“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?”
Rather than hand over Arafat’s letter, which Prince Bandar said would be leaked to the press and likely used as evidence by anti-Palestinian groups to show that the Palestinian leaders did not want peace, Crown Prince Fahd instead reportedly covered for them.
According to Prince Bandar, Crown Prince Fahd told him the following: “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.”
Prince Bandar added that this was just one of many occasions that Saudi Arabian officials covered for Palestinian officials’ failures.
1986: Ronald Reagan offer falls through after Arafat plane ride
President Ronald Reagan also reportedly showed willing to recognize the PLO, an opportunity that again fell through because of Arafat, said Prince Bandar.
According to Prince Bandar, the initiative came after Saudi Arabia provided financial aid to the US-backed right-wing Contras militias, who were fighting against the left-wing government in Nicaragua.
Prince Bandar said that Saudi Arabia provided the support on a strategic basis, partly to secure continued American support against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The following year, in 1986, Prince Bandar said he was asked by King Fahd to propose a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict to Reagan.
Prince Bandar said he secured a letter from Reagan that was willing to recognize the PLO and hold talks with the Palestinian leaders in return for the PLO recognizing UN Resolution 242, denouncing terrorism, and recognizing “the right of the region’s states to live in peace.”
Prince Bandar delivered a signed letter from Reagan to Arafat, who he said began dancing with joy and kissed Prince Bandar, much like when hearing the news of Carter’s willingness to recognize the PLO.
Despite Prince Bandar offering Arafat the evidence of US support for peace, Arafat refused to go directly to meet and hold a joint announcement with Jordan’s King Hussein.
Instead, Arafat reportedly insisted on flying to Saudi Arabia to thank King Fahd before visiting King Hussein, despite Prince Bandar assuring him that it was unnecessary.
Arafat was not convinced, and set off in a Saudi Arabian plane lent to him by Prince Bandar.
However, rather than fly straight to the Kingdom, Arafat reportedly spent a month traveling around the world, including visiting North Korea and South Yemen – countries that had no established ties with Saudi Arabia.
By the time Arafat finally arrived in the Kingdom, the Americans had lost interest in the talks, said Prince Bandar.
According to Prince Bandar, these failures were typical of the Palestinian leadership, which he contrasted with Saudi Arabian efforts to try and secure a peace 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,” Bandar said.
“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,” he said, concluding part two of the interview.
Prince Bandar’s comments are in the second part of his exclusive interview with Al Arabiya. Read the transcript of both parts here.
Watch the first part here.
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