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, the former Saudi ambassador to the US and intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan said in an interview with Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that aired Monday.
“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,” bin Sultan said.
Bin Sultan 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 on al-Arabiya — a 40-minute lecture, complete with archival footage — bin Sultan 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.
“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,” bin Sultan 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,” 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. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman told The Atlantic monthly in 2017 that he believed that both Palestinians and Israelis had the right “to their own land.”
Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful states in the Muslim world, 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.
Bin Sultan 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.
“Israel was working on increasing its influence, while the Arabs were busy with each other. The Palestinians and their leaders led these disputes among the Arabs,” bin Sultan said.
Bin Sultan 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.
“I thought to myself, he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians,” bin Sultan said.
Bin Sultan described talks he had presided over between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. According to bin Sultan, it took complex diplomacy to reach an agreement that satisfied both movements, which have been at odds since a 2007 struggle for control of the Gaza Strip.
But as soon as Fatah and Hamas had signed their agreement, bin Sultan said, “We received news they had already gone back on their word and started conspiring and plotting against each other once again.”
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 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.
Bin Sultan 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,” bin Sultan said.
The former Saudi spy chief also accused the Palestinian leadership of aligning itself with Iran and Turkey against the conservative Gulf monarchies.
“Who are the allies of the Palestinians now? Is it Iran, which is using the Palestinian cause as a pretext at the expense of the Palestinian people?… Or is it Turkey, which Hamas leaders have thanked for its stance in support of Hamas and the Palestinian cause?” bin Sultan asked rhetorically.
Two further parts of bin Sultan’s interview will be shown on al-Arabiya later this week.