Saudi prince accuses Palestinian leadership of failing Palestinians

JERUSALEM – In a surprising televised monologue, a senior member of the Saudi The royal family and the former ambassador to Washington have accused the Palestinian leadership of betraying their people, signaling an erosion of Saudi support for an issue long considered sacrosanct.

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause but its defenders are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust but its defenders have proven themselves,” Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz said in a statement. the first episode of a three-part program, which aired Monday on the Saudi-controlled Al Arabiya satellite channel.

“It sums up the events of the past 70 or 75 years,” the prince said.

Prince Bandar’s 40-minute program on Monday and a sequel that aired on Tuesday seemed like a way for the kingdom to change its narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without having to put it in the mouths of current officials.

Prince Bandar, 71, currently holds no government post, but served as Saudi Ambassador to Washington from 1983 to 2005, when he became so close to the Bush family that he was jokingly referred to as “Bandar Bush. “.

He then headed the Saudi intelligence agency, and a person familiar with the relationship said he had overseen Saudi Arabia’s clandestine relations with Israel. Two of his children are now Saudi ambassadors, Princess Reema bint Bandar in Washington and Prince Khalid bin Bandar in London.

Experts said Prince Bandar would not have received as much airtime on Al Arabiya, which is based in Dubai, if his message had not matched the wishes of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prince Bandar said his remarks were a response to the Palestinian leadership’s condemnation of the recent agreements brokered by the United States to normalize relations between Israel and two close Saudi allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Agreements, signed during a ceremony on the White House lawn last month, laid the groundwork for the two Gulf countries to establish open diplomatic and economic relations with Israel after years of clandestine contacts. The agreements did not address the future of the Palestinians, whose claim to statehood had long been seen as a prerequisite for greater acceptance of Israel by the Arab world.

Prince Bandar’s extraordinary indictment came in the middle a larger change in Israel’s relations with the Arab states, some of which now see the Israelis less as usurpers of Arab lands and more as valuable partners in trade and in rivalry with Iran.

Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Saudi, Israeli and American officials have said that they don’t expect the kingdom to normalize relationships anytime soon. But Saudi Arabia, long seen as a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, has softened its stance towards Israel in recent years, which many in the Middle East believe could pave the way for eventual normalization.

The change was instigated by Crown Prince Mohammed, who said that both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to their own land and that Israel’s security and economic interests overlap with those of the Arab states.

The kingdom has given the green light to the initiatives of the Emirates and Bahrain, and Saudi state-controlled media have praised the agreements. Saudi media have also recently produced content on Israel and Jewish history in the Middle East, subjects once considered taboo.

Palestinian officials denounced the agreements as a betrayal, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Gulf leaders of turning their backs on the Palestinians.

On the TV show, Prince Bandar called the Palestinian response a “low-level speech,” adding that this was not surprising since this is how rival Palestinian factions behave.

He pointed to decades of Saudi support for the Palestinians, which he called a one-sided street.

“I believe that in Saudi Arabia, acting according to our good will, we have always been there for them,” he said. “Whenever they asked for advice and help, we gave them both without expecting anything in return, but they accepted the help and ignored the advice. “

He added, “I think it is only fair for the Palestinian people to know some truths which have not been discussed or which have been hidden.

The initial Palestinian response to the prince’s statements has been muted.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official and seasoned chief negotiator, shared the Bandar agenda on Twitter, saying that everyone had the right to watch and that the Palestinian response would come after the third episode. This response, Mr Erekat said, would be factual and “scientific” and not demonize anyone.

Prince Bandar offered a rambling and selective history of the Palestinian struggle, saying the Palestinians “always bet on the losing side”.

His investigation, interspersed with images and archival footage, cited contacts between Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and one of the first Palestinian nationalist leaders, and the Nazis in the 1930s, adding: “We know all that happened to Hitler and Germany. “

The prince also lambasted Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, for kissing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, despite Kuwait’s record in welcoming Palestinians. And he accused Mr. Arafat’s PLO of working harder to seize Jordan and Lebanon than to liberate Palestine.

Although there is broad agreement that Mr. al-Husseini collaborated with the Nazis against Zionism, historians differ on the importance of his relationship with the Nazi leadership.

Prince Bandar also appeared to criticize Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948, saying Saudi Arabia urged them to stay and offered them money. and weapons.

In the show’s second installment on Tuesday night, he continued his rant on the story of the Palestinians’ missed opportunities, saying, “It’s not our fault that God gave them such leaders.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities involved, criticized what he called the prince’s distorted story. The official said the Palestinian refugees fled for their lives, as in any war.

Martin S. Indyk, a former US Ambassador to Israel who was responsible for Middle East policy during the Clinton administration and who worked closely with Prince Bandar when he was Ambassador to Washington, said that the prince had never forgiven the Palestinians for siding with Saddam Hussein. after invading Kuwait.

“For Prince Bandar, this was the initial betrayal,” Mr Indyk said. “He clearly couldn’t stand idly by when they accused the UAE of treason.”

Mr Indyk said he doubted the program foreshadowed an impending Saudi move to normalize relations with Israel.

“But Bandar is an important representative of the old guard of the Saudi royal family,” he said. “So this is an indication that there will be a favorable environment for such an initiative,” whenever the Saudi leadership decides to do so.

Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem and Ben Hubbard from Beirut.

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