It’s hard to compete with Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, when it comes to Israeli public relations. He did a better and more convincing job than any Israeli spokesperson could have and certainly outdid any pro-Israel American mouthpiece.
When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman commented two months ago about a historical geopolitical earthquake in the Middle East, he was referring to things such as Bandar’s interview with Al Arabiya on Monday. Bandar didn’t just assail the Palestinian leadership—which has sparked the ire of the aging, it should be noted, Saudi prince—but the century-old historical narrative pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates visited the Berlin Holocaust Memorial on Tuesday, the Saudi prince said the Palestinians have “always bet on the losing side,” most prominently former Jerusalem mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini’s support for Hitler and the Nazi regime. From a diplomatic perspective, nothing could be more breathtaking in terms of Arab-Israeli relations. This is a monumental, not to mention crucial, revolution. The Al Arabiya interview was essentially broadcast as a 40-minute monologue. Other parts of the interview will be aired in the coming days.
Toward the end of his remarks, Bandar mentioned something interesting: “[Arafat] said, ‘Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were 10 times better than the Oslo Accord. I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?’ He said, ‘I wanted to, but [then-Syrian dictator] Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.’ ”
Bandar added: “I thought to myself, so he [Arafat] could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.”
This story says more about Bandar’s view of Arafat than the truth between 1978 and 1993.
In 1993, in the Oslo Accords, Arafat was given a foothold in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, along with control over the residents of these areas. The autonomy envisioned by Menachem Begin, meanwhile, did not include Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization, although it did crack open the door for exactly that. Bandar has a score to settle with Arafat—one might say a bloody one.
In the years he served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington, he was one of the more influential figures in the United States and on certain issues pertaining to the Middle East, the energy industry and terror; he was even stronger than then-U.S. President George W. Bush. Bandar was the one who strong-armed Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to publicly declare U.S. recognition of the Palestinian right to an independent state of their own.
The Bush administration at the time went even further than the Clinton roadmap. It was Bandar who pressured Bush to allow many Saudi individuals, including those tied with Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks, to board planes and flee the United States. For comparison’s sake, to this day one poor Jew, former spy Jonathan Pollard, cannot even leave the state of New York let alone fly to Israel.
Bandar did not become pro-Zionist overnight, but when it came to his narrative regarding the Six-Day War, he noted that it didn’t start due to wanton Israeli “aggression,” rather then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decision to close the Straits of Tiran.
This moment in time, with the Saudis attacking the Palestinians, exposes the fact that peace with the UAE and Bahrain is essentially peace with the ancient birthmother of Arab nationalism. It was Bandar’s ancestors who rode, swords drawn, with Lawrence of Arabia to liberate most of the Middle East from the Turks during World War I.
Beyond this, the Saudi stance alongside Israel mostly indicates the Arabs’ reduced standing as a global power. They were at their apex in the 1970s and 1980s. From Israel’s vantage point, strategic patience and durability paid off. It appears that true victories aren’t achieved via lightning strikes but through dedicated commitment to a long-term process.
Amnon Lord is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper “Makor Rishon.” His articles and essays about media, film and politics have been published in “The Jerusalem Post,” “Mida,” “Azure,” “Nativ” and “Achshav.”
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.