The former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, appeared on Al-Arabiya tv on Monday evening, October 6, 2020.
Saudi Efforts With the US President Carter
“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.
The American-Saudi Initiative for Recognition of the PLO
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.
Palestinian Obstinacy Continues for No Reason
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?
The Saudis Bear Responsibility for the Palestinians
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.”
The Classic Palestinian Position Again
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.
A next Saudi Tour for the Palestinian Cause
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.
The Saudis provide Protection in Return for Ingratitude
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.
Weird Dance Again
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.
Arafat Enjoys Free Miles
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.
The Palestinians in Lebanon
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.
The King does not joke in serious times
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 Allies are passing through tough times
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.
The Palestinians do Not Have Credibility with their Allies
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 Menu wasn’t Enough For the Palestinians
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.
The Saudis are Proud of their Policies
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.
You can watch this part here