By Feras Abu-Helal
Much has been written about the “spontaneous” intervention by the former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US, Bandar Bin Sultan. It is now known that the most important message that he was sent to convey was contained in the last sentence of his lengthy interview on Al-Arabiya: Saudi Arabia, he said, has its own interests and concerns, and it will not put anybody else’s interests over their own.
Of course, Bin Sultan was referring to normalisation with Israel in order to guarantee US support for the Kingdom and protection from Iran. Years of official statements have confirmed that Riyadh believes Iran to be the greatest threat in the region. However, will normalisation really protect Saudi Arabia from the Iranians?
There is no doubt that every country has the right to pursue its own interests and protect its national security. The problem with trying to protect Saudi Arabia by normalising relations with Israel, though, is that it is a doomed endeavour. Bringing Israel into the equation will cost the Kingdom dearly.
For a start, it will prove that Iran is right when it says that it is the only country in the region that supports the Palestinian cause. However, this cause is still a central cause in the hearts and minds of the Arab people in general, and those in Saudi Arabia in particular, despite the official media efforts to eliminate this consciousness.
Then there is the fact that opening the Gulf door to the occupation state through normalisation will fuel its cold war between with Iran. This will affect the security of all Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.
Furthermore, Israel will push the “normalised” Gulf States into a confrontation with Iran. If this confrontation takes a serious turn, God forbid, then it will not be a direct Israel-Iran war, but an Israeli proxies-Iran war.
All of us following the political debate inside Israel are aware that none of the parties there are interested in war with Iran. The same applies to the US, which views Iran as less of a threat to its interests now that the importance of Gulf oil has declined, and Israel’s military superiority is guaranteed. Hence, America will not enter such a war with Iran in the short and medium term, whether the US President is a Republican or a Democrat; Washington will base its policy solely on the need to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
Neither Israel nor America will protect Saudi Arabia from Iran. The interests of the Gulf States will only be protected by an Arab renaissance against the Israeli occupation and the forging of broad alliances with Egypt and Turkey. This will push Iran to make some historic reconciliations in the region with Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.
Bandar Bin Sultan’s interview was based on his recollections intended to show the Palestinian leaders in the worst possible light, as if to “prove” that they do not deserve support. There is no problem about criticising the Palestinian leaderships across all factions; the people of Palestine do this all the time, but the justice of their cause and their attachment to their homeland is not defined by or limited to the politicians in charge. The Saudi prince was scathing about political discourse and its unprecedented decline, but went on like a street corner gossip to mention personal characteristics of Palestinian officials and expose internal disputes and conflicts that the Palestine liberation movement has witnessed throughout its history.
The Palestinians themselves criticise these disagreements and conflicts, but they do so using political language, not in a series of quarrels unbefitting of politicians and diplomats. They also know that such conflicts are a part and parcel of political work in liberation movements and even in fully-fledged states and governments. I would have expected that a senior diplomat like Bandar Bin Sultan would understand this. He could, of course, have told Al-Arabiya about the bloody conflict surrounding the birth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the internal divisions, plots, arrests, betrayals and corruption in which the ruling House of Saud is still embroiled.
The Palestinians need political criticism of their heroic struggle, but they do not need lessons about how to manage it, or about how to deal with “missed opportunities”, especially if these are delivered in less than diplomatic language. Bin Sultan said a lot about the Palestinian leaders “missing” political opportunities for a solution — which comes straight from the Zionist anti-Palestine phrase book — and the stories he told need a response from the Palestinian leadership. His bizarre conclusion was that it is the Palestinians who have been the obstacle to a political solution for the conflict with the Israelis. It is astonishing that he could believe this given that every concession in negotiations has been yielded by the Palestinians; the Israelis have conceded nothing at all. In any case, despite disagreeing with a lot of things said and done by Yasser Arafat, I think he was right not to sign an unfair agreement at the second Camp David meeting.
What is more important than what Bandar Bin Sultan said in this context is what he didn’t say. He kept quiet about the fact that the initiative proposed by the then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, at the suggestion of US journalist Thomas L Friedman, which became the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, was foiled by Israel, not the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority agreed to the initiative without reservation, although it did not fulfil all of the Palestinians’ legitimate rights, but it was rejected by the occupation authorities, who treated it as insignificant.
This is a fact that Bin Sultan did not dare mention, but that was not surprising. The main goal of his media appearance was not to condemn Israel and its brutal occupation, but to hold its victims, the Palestinian people, responsible for not relinquishing their rights.
(Source / 14.10.2020)