JERUSALEM– Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, slammed the Palestinian leadership for criticizing the decision of some Gulf Arab states to normalise relations with Israel.
In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television aired on Monday, the senior member of the House of Saud labeled the Palestinian authorities’ criticism a “transgression” and “reprehensible discourse”.
Palestinian leaders are “failures” who have consistently missed opportunities for a settlement with Israel and who are aligning themselves with the enemies of Saudi Arabia, Bandar said.
“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,” Bandar bin Sultan said.
Bandar served as the Saudi ambassador in Washington for over 30 years, as well as in several high-level intelligence positions after his return to Riyadh. He led Saudi Arabia’s security services from 2012 to 2014, also directing the Saudi National Security Council for over a decade.
In scathing statements Bandar discussed the history of Saudi-Palestinian relations. He harshly criticized the Palestinian leadership for what he deemed to be repeated missed opportunities to reach an accord with Israel, and for taking Saudi aid while ignoring Saudi political counsel.
“There is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: They always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price,” Saudi prince said.
The UAE agreed a historic deal to normalise relations with Israel in August, and Bahrain followed suit in September.
Palestinians fear the moves will weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position – known as the Arab Peace Initiative – that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab states.
President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leadership regarded the UAE’s move as “a betrayal”.
“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,” Bandar 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.
“I believe that we in Saudi Arabia, acting on our goodwill, 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,” Bandar said.
“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,” Bandar bin Sultan said.
The ex-spy chief’s remarks reflect growing public disenchantment with the Palestinian leadership in Saudi Arabia, as well as warming ties between the kingdom and the Jewish state.
Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam and the highly influential Muslim country, has long enjoyed covert ties with Israel. Much speculation has swirled in recent weeks around Riyadh’s potential role in the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’, the US-mediated agreements that established open ties between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Bandar discussed both the 1948 partition plan and the 1979 Camp David Accords with Egypt, both of which could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state or Palestinian self-rule. He called both plans preferable to the status quo, noting the continued growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He said that Palestinian refusal to reach an agreement — and the boycotts they led of those who did, such as Egypt — pushed the Arab world into division.
Bandar accused late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of lacking the political courage to accept the Camp David Accords, saying that even Arafat admitted their provisions were better than the Oslo Accords, which he ultimately signed with Israel in 1995.
Relations between the Palestinians and the conservative Gulf monarchies have been declining for years. The Palestinian Authority has not received aid from the UAE since 2014, while Saudi Arabia began aggressively jailing and prosecuting Hamas members on its soil as far back as 2017.
When the Abraham Accords were announced in mid-August, Palestinians took to the streets to burn photos of Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas described the Emirati decision to normalize with Israel as “a stab in the back.”
According to Bandar Bin Sultan, the rhetoric employed by Palestinians to criticize the normalization accords was a “transgression against the Gulf states’ leadership” and a “reprehensible discourse.”
“This low level of discourse is not what we expect from officials who seek to gain global support for their cause,” he said.
Bandar mused that consistent Saudi aid to Palestinian leaders may have led them to take the Gulf for granted.
“I think [our support] 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 toward the Saudi leadership or the Saudi state, or the Gulf leaderships and states,” Bandar said.
While Saudi Arabia is not expected to follow the example of its Gulf allies any time soon, experts and diplomats believe the kingdom has started shifting the public discourse on Israel.
Prince Bandar’s daughter, Princess Reema, is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States.
The former Saudi spy chief also blasted the Palestinians for allying themselves with Iran and Turkey instead of the conservative Gulf monarchies.
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