|Israel Resource Review
||8th June, 2003
How The Saudi
Ambassador Became Washington's Indispensable
Elsa Walsh, Senior Writer
The New Yorker
[The following article indicates the extent to which the US is
beholden to' Saudi pressure. The article correctly indicates
that the Saudis were angry at the US at the end of August, 2001,
yet it does not mention that one of the reasons for that anger
was that Bush had ordered that the US gov't delegation walk out
of the Durban anti-racism conference in coordination with Israel]
During the first weeks of the second Bush Administration, the Saudi Arabian
Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, met with the new
President. Bandar, who is fifty-three and has been the Saudi Ambassador for
twenty years, was accustomed to an unusually personal relationship with the
White House; he was so close to the President's father, George H. W. Bush,
that he was considered almost a member of the family. The Saudi Ambassador
had been happy about the younger Bush's victory, but he was worn out by the
unpublicized role he had played in the failed negotiations to resolve the
Middle East crisis during the last weeks of the Clinton Presidency.
President Clinton had been working on a compromise for years; after the
Monica Lewinsky scandal, he had called this effort part of his "personal
journey of atonement." Bush had been briefed on the collapse of the talks
and was baffled by Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority.
"Explain one thing to me," he said to Bandar. "I cannot believe somebody
will not strike a deal with two desperate people."
When Bandar asked what Bush meant by "desperate," Bush explained: President
Clinton had been eager to leave office with a settlement in the Middle East,
and Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, needed a deal to survive the next
election. Bush said that he didn't think Arafat really wanted to solve the
Bandar believed that Arafat's failure to accept the deal in January of 2001
was a tragic mistake-a crime, really. Yet to say so publicly would damage
the Palestinian cause, which had been championed by the Saudis, who would
then lose any leverage they still had. Bush told Bandar that, unlike
Clinton, he did not intend to intervene aggressively.
Bandar left the meeting even more distressed. At the end of the Clinton
Presidency, Bandar had received confidential assurances from Colin Powell,
the Secretary of State-designate, that he was to relay to Arafat: the Middle
East deal made by Clinton that the new Administration endorsed would be
enforced. Powell warned that the "peace process" would be different under
Bush. Bush would not spend hours on the telephone, and Camp David was not
going to become a motel. The message was clear, and until the end Bandar had
continued to hope: it appeared that Arafat would get almost everything he
wanted, and that Bush's Administration, which Bandar saw as more
tough-minded than Clinton's, would stand behind the agreement.
"I still have not recovered, to be honest with you, inside, from the
magnitude of the missed opportunity that January," Bandar told me at his
home in McLean, Virginia. "Sixteen hundred Palestinians dead so far. And
seven hundred Israelis dead. In my judgment, not one life of those Israelis
and Palestinians dead is justified."
We met in late November, during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to
dusk, and Bandar had invited me to break the day's fast with him. Steel
barriers block the way to the house, which overlooks the Potomac River, and
I had passed through a security checkpoint, where commandos in khaki pants
and vests inspected my car for explosives. Bandar has a full, expressive
face and a boisterous laugh. He usually wears European clothes when meeting
Westerners, but on that evening he wore the traditional Saudi dress-a white
caftan and sandals. He was eagerly relighting a slim cigar (smoking, too, is
banned during fasting hours). On the table were nearly two dozen dishes of
rice, stews, beans, and breads. We were in a dining room with a hand-painted
mural of Washington, D.C., as a backdrop. Bandar pointed to the small jet
rounding the Monument, an image commissioned by his wife, Princess Haifa, in
a nod to Bandar's years as a fighter pilot for the Royal Saudi Air Force.
That week had not been a good one, but neither had any week for more than a
year-not since September 11, 2001, when nineteen hijackers, Islamic
fundamentalists, attacked the United States, and fifteen of them were
identified as Saudi nationals. There were a great many news stories
reporting that hundreds of millions of dollars have gone from Saudi
companies and charities to extremist groups, including Al Qaeda. Late last
year, it turned out that Princess Haifa had made a charitable donation that
ended up in the bank account of the wife of a man who helped two of the
hijackers. F.B.I. and Justice Department officials later said that the
financial trail was indirect: a check from the Princess, intended for a
Jordanian woman married to a Saudi who needed an operation, had been
endorsed to someone else. But the reaction in the press and from some
politicians was harsh: What side were the Saudis on? "I felt like the whole
world fell on my head," Haifa told me, in January, sitting in her living
room. She is a tall woman with shoulder-length hair that is streaked with
gray. "How can I want to help these people when they want our downfall?" she
asked. Laura Bush called to sympathize; so did George H. W. Bush and his
wife, Barbara. "I felt horribly about the attacks on her," the elder Bush
wrote to me.
The Saudi connection to September 11th was not Bandar's first crisis, but
it has certainly been his worst. In the Reagan era, he was exposed as an
intermediary in the Iran-Contra affair; it was Bandar who arranged for
thirty-two million dollars in Saudi financing for the Nicaraguan Contras.
The Saudi Ambassador operated at times in the shadows of diplomacy. But now
Bandar was working to save the reputation of his own country, a nation where
Wahhabism, an extreme and rigidly austere version of Islam, was routinely
taught and practiced. (The Wahhabis believe in a literal interpretation of
the Koran and in their duty to convert or rid their nation of non-Wahhabi
Muslims.) Americans seemed to be looking at his country with fresh eyes, and
they saw a place with anti-democratic institutions, with a royal family that
ruled with oil money, and with a population that was virulently
anti-American. On the night he heard that fifteen of the hijackers were
Saudis, Bandar said, "I was shocked. I was depressed. I was angry. Then it
dawned on me that every fight I had in this town-political fight-I had it
with Congress, with the Administration, but I always felt very comfortable
as far as public opinion is concerned. This time, I thought, I have no
problems with the Administration or Congress or even with the media, in a
sense. But Joe Six-Pack is not going to understand now the fine
Bandar, the senior diplomat in Washington, has served under four American
Presidents, and has been the emissary to, among others, Margaret Thatcher,
Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Saddam Hussein, and the Chinese government.
He is a man of exuberant charm; he is also flashy, cunning, secretive, and,
at times, ruthless ("a.k.a. 'Mr. Smoothie' " is how the Times columnist
William Safire has referred to him). Unlike most ambassadors, Bandar has
unprecedented access to the President and to most senior American officials.
On the night that we met in McLean, George Tenet, the director of the
C.I.A., stopped by for a quick meeting, and when I visited Bandar last month
he received a telephone call from Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national-security
adviser. Rice was checking on Saudi efforts to persuade the French to
support a second U.N. resolution calling on Iraq to disarm. Some think that
Bandar exaggerates his influence and his presence, but his name shows up
repeatedly in any recounting of the political events of the past twenty
years-in particular as a fixer of problems that cannot be solved in the
open. According to an authoritative Israeli source, Ehud Barak thought that
in many cases Bandar's intercession was more effective than that of the
American peacekeeping team. "At the end of the day, who can deliver is who
wins the battle," Bandar told me.
Bandar lives in two worlds, and the ease with which he moves between them
has made him a natural intermediary. He is a member of the Saudi royal
family-the son of the Defense Minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who is
second in line to the Crown. He is widely regarded as pragmatic and
non-ideological, and sensitive to the subtleties of complex and emotional
issues. He is fond of American colloquialisms and American history, and he
likes Big Macs served on silver platters. "I am more Alexander Hamilton
ideals than Jeffersonian Democrat," he likes to say, referring to his
conservative political leanings. He travels frequently on his private Airbus
A-340; since December, he has travelled six times between Washington and
Saudi Arabia, with stops in Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Paris, and
London, carrying messages between Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah, the
de-facto Saudi ruler, and other heads of state. When I saw him last week, he
had just returned from Riyadh; the first people he saw were Bush and
Vice-President Dick Cheney.
He has the ability to focus intimately on the person in front of him,
laughing and trading gossip, and he speaks animatedly, his eyes and hands in
constant motion. He has always known how to make friends with important
people and with people who will someday be important. Nancy Reagan used him
to relay messages to her husband's Cabinet; he played racquetball with Colin
Powell in the seventies. (Powell lives nearby in McLean, and the two see
each other frequently.) One of our interviews lasted for seven hours, until
nearly midnight; afterward, Bandar went to the airport to leave for Saudi
Arabia. I had not known that he was going until he stood up and put on a
lambskin-lined full-length desert coat and joined the waiting motorcade. "A
long time ago, when I was young and immature and aggressive, a Jewish car
salesman in Alabama told me, 'Make your words soft and sweet-you never know
when you have to eat them.' I never forgot it. That phrase has saved my rear
end, my royal rear end, so many times."
A few months after September 11th, Bandar went to Aspen, where he has a
thirty-two-room mansion. A major part of his success, one foreign leader
told me, was that Bandar could be trusted to convey King Fahd's private
views when they differed from his public statements. Bandar had gone to
Aspen to relax, but also to do a little housecleaning in a place that has
fewer diversions than Washington. He had brought with him sixteen of thirty
or so locked attache cases that he keeps in McLean. They contain evidence of
the covert operations and secret agreements that Bandar coordinated at the
behest of King Fahd and the United States, mostly during the Reagan era-such
as records of a Swiss bank account that Bandar had personally set up for the
Nicaraguan Contras. In the nineties, Bandar helped persuade the Libyan
leader Muammar Qaddafi to turn over two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan
Am Flight 103. (Privately, Bandar has called Qaddafi "a Jerry Lewis trying
to be a Churchill.") In the late nineties, in appreciation for Saudi help in
resolving the Pan Am Flight 103 case, the Libyans made an extraordinary
offer: to share information with the United States about Osama bin Laden,
whom the Saudis had stripped of citizenship five years earlier. (By one
account, the Libyans actually offered to assassinate bin Laden, which made
Tenet particularly uneasy. A spokesman for former President Clinton says
that the Administration was unaware of that offer, but he acknowledged that
the Libyans had provided intelligence help.) Libya was the first country to
seek an international arrest warrant for bin Laden, because of terrorist
Most of the details of these operations were known to only three people:
Bandar, Fahd (who was incapacitated by a series of strokes in 1995), and
William Casey, the former C.I.A. director, who died in 1987. I later asked
Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former chief of the Saudi intelligence services
and Bandar's brother-in-law, whether he had known about Bandar's less savory
covert activities. "Bandar operated outside the norm," he told me. "He
conducted secret operations out of normal channels, with King Fahd's
permission and blessing, that I was not aware of." Turki, who is the
youngest son of King Faisal, has a low-key manner and is considered one of
the most Westernized of the Saudi leaders. He said that he understood the
special relationship between Bandar and Fahd. Turki told me that, as King,
his father once said, "When you are working with your uncles, remember that
they are your uncles, and they may want to do something that they don't want
you to know about."
In the early eighties, Bandar began having regular lunches with
Vice-President George Bush, in his office at the Old Executive Office
Building. Although Bush was widely considered a weak Vice-President, Bandar
believed that he was the first important American politician he'd known who
did not automatically favor Israel; from the start, Bandar had found Bush
helpful in advancing the Saudi cause, and supportive of Saudi efforts to buy
weapons from the United States. Bandar also liked him personally.
In 1985, Bandar threw a lavish party for Bush, who never forgot the
courtesy, and always had time for the Saudi Ambassador. "Most important, he
was a troubleshooter for King Fahd," Brent Scowcroft, Bush's
national-security adviser, wrote of Bandar in a joint memoir with Bush. "The
King frequently turned to him for advice. For these reasons, we knew he was
a special conduit from us to Fahd."
The major event of the first Bush Administration was Iraq's 1990 invasion
of Kuwait, on the northern border of Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent
Persian Gulf War. Just four months earlier, Bandar had met with Saddam
Hussein, at Fahd's request, to discuss a speech in which Saddam, boasting of
his country's chemical weapons, had said, "By God, we will make the fire eat
up half of Israel if it tries to do anything against Iraq." The speech was
condemned by the Bush Administration, and Saddam wanted Bandar to tell the
Administration that his words were being misinterpreted-he had no intention
of attacking Israel unless he was attacked first. In return, he wanted the
Americans to persuade Israel not to attack Iraq. These messages were
conveyed, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bandar realized that Saddam had
duped everyone-he had got free passage into Kuwait. It looked as if Saddam's
real target was Saudi Arabia and its oil fields.
But a smaller moment may have cemented the bond between the elder Bush and
Bandar. When George and Barbara Bush visited the troops in Saudi Arabia
during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1990, Bush called Bandar, who was in
Saudi Arabia at the time. Bandar went to the private quarters in the royal
palace where the Bushes were staying. Bush had tears in his eyes, and
Bandar, worried, asked what had happened. Bush explained that Dorothy, their
recently divorced daughter, was alone at the White House with her children.
They had called her from the airplane and learned that Bandar's wife, Haifa,
had invited Doro and her children to spend Thanksgiving with her. ("I don't
have parents now," Haifa told me. "The Bushes are like my mother and father.
I know if ever I needed anything I could go to them.")
On the day before the 1992 election, Bandar was in Houston; at around two
in the morning, unable to sleep, he wrote an emotional letter to Bush in
which he expressed gratitude to Bush for saving his country. "You are my
friend for life, one of my family," he wrote. "Tomorrow you win either way.
If you win, you deserve it, and if you lose you are in good company," and he
reminded Bush that Churchill had won the war but lost the election. Bandar
had the letter delivered at four in the morning. At around six that evening,
Bush called; the exit polls were showing a Clinton victory. "It's over,"
Bush said. (Bush recently confirmed that he had received this letter from
Bandar.) "It was like I lost one of my family, dead," Bandar said. He told
the King that he wanted to resign.
Back in Washington, on a Saturday a few weeks later, Bandar got a call from
Bush, inviting him and the family to Camp David for lunch. "Can we have a
sort of Wasp lunch, meaning at eleven-thirty, twelve, not an Arab lunch, at
three or four?" Bandar asked, explaining that the Dallas Cowboys, the team
he roots for, were playing the Redskins the next day and he wanted to be
home to watch the game. The owner of the Cowboys was expected for dinner.
It was the first time Bandar had seen Bush since the defeat, and the
gathering had an awkward feeling. After lunch, Bush and Bandar went for a
walk. As they started up a steep incline on the trail, Bush explained that
every world leader who visited had been put to the test: Gorbachev, John
Major, Helmut Kohl. (Kohl had stopped halfway up the hill, Bush said.)
Bandar was not sure what to say. Sorry you lost? They kept walking.
Eventually, Bandar recalled, Bush told him to ask King Fahd to help the new
President; Bandar decided to remain as Ambassador. "To this day," the former
President wrote to me, "Bandar is the only person besides the President of
the United States that Bar lets smoke in our house, although both have to do
it in their room with the door closed."
Bandar's father is Prince Sultan, one of the seven sons of Abdul Aziz, the
founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and his favorite wife, Hassa bint Ahmed
al-Sudairi, who is perhaps the most revered woman in Saudi history. Sultan,
who was in his early twenties at the time of Bandar's birth, had already
held the position of governor of Riyadh. But Bandar's mother, Khizaran, was
a dark-skinned sixteen-year-old commoner from the Asir Province, one of the
southernmost points in Saudi Arabia. She could not read or write; she later
taught herself. Bandar, who sees her regularly, says that she was a
concubine. He lived with his mother and his aunt, and had little contact
with his father when he was very young. "It taught me patience, and a
defense mechanism, if you want, to not expect anything," he told me. "And
the way I rationalized it to myself was if I don't expect anything and I
don't get anything, I don't get disappointed. So nobody can hurt my feelings."
Under Sharia, the Islamic law that governs Saudi Arabia, all sons are born
equal, even if they are illegitimate. But Bandar was eight years old before
he entered his father's bedroom for the first time. "One day at school I
heard from one of my brothers that Daddy was sick, and I didn't understand
how sick or how serious it was," he told me. "But I was a little too proud
to ask people or to show people I didn't know." Sultan heard of Bandar's
concern and summoned him. When Bandar arrived, he pulled the young boy onto
his bed. "It was like he gave me the whole world," Bandar told me.
Bandar's isolation from the family ended when he was eleven. Abdul Aziz had
died several years earlier, and it was decided that Bandar and his mother
should live with his grandmother Hassa, in the palace. "It was a practical
decision, but it completely altered my life," Bandar told me. Each day at 5
a.m., Hassa would wake up her grandson for prayers. After prayers, she told
him the history of the House of Saud. "She was not educated, but she had
learned the Koran by heart," Bandar recalled. "She was a combination of
Maggie Thatcher and Mother Teresa. She was very pious, yet very
strong-willed." He worshipped her, and she returned the affection. "She was
the most influential figure in my life," he said.
"Living with her opened up his eyes," a close friend of Bandar's told me.
"Hassa taught him about life, about women, about politics, about what a
great man his grandfather was. She made him feel special, and it was at that
point that his relationship with his father began."
Even then, Bandar told me, his contact with his father was limited. "My
memory of him as a child was that he was always working at his papers or
talking on the telephone," Prince Khaled bin Sultan, Bandar's half brother,
wrote in a memoir. An outsider like Bandar would have to try hard, to amuse,
to be useful. When Bandar was thirteen, Sultan was named Defense Minister,
and three years later Bandar, in a move surely intended to please his
father, enrolled in the Royal Air Force College, at Cranwell, England, to
train as a fighter pilot. (Bandar, then sixteen, had a doctor alter his
birth certificate by a year in order to qualify.) But he also joined, he
told me, because he'd always felt somewhat uncertain of the attention people
showed him: "I didn't feel I did anything to earn it except by happenstance,
circumstance. Just because my father is a prince, I became a prince. I never
worked a day in my life to be one. Compare that with my feeling when I got
commissioned a second lieutenant. I was so proud."
Even then, expectations for Bandar were not high. "He wasn't sent to Eton,"
a close Saudi friend said. "He was not given great opportunity. He was sent
to military school. You do not send someone to military school to get a
great opportunity." (Bandar has sent some of his sons to Eton.)
Bandar excelled at flying. "Really the only thing I wanted to do in my life
was fly an airplane and be ready when called upon to be a warrior," he told
me. At Cranwell, he began to develop the swashbuckling personality that some
Westerners have found so appealing. Walking into a local pub one day, a
lonely Bandar found a group of classmates drinking yard-long flasks of beer.
He asked to join them, and although alcohol was banned in Saudi Arabia,
Bandar stayed through the night.
When Bandar returned to Saudi Arabia three years later, he was determined
to show that he was more than Sultan's son. "When I am fifty feet upside
down and I don't crash, it has nothing to do with my dad or my granddad or
anybody. It is me and I am good," he said. He became the Saudi Air Force's
chief acrobatics artist. Turki told me about a day when Sultan was sitting
with King Faisal, Turki's father, and King Hussein of Jordan reviewing a
Saudi military parade. Bandar was flying acrobatic maneuvers, and at one
point his plane appeared to shoot straight up, showering a spray of exhaust
over everyone. Faisal, who did not know the identity of the pilot, was not
pleased. "Bandar wanted to do it because the two kings were there, and
probably he wanted to show King Hussein, who was himself a pilot, what Saudi
pilots can do," Turki told me.
Flying also gave Bandar an opportunity to differentiate himself from the
other young princes, who tended to favor the good life. The distinction paid
off with Haifa, the youngest daughter of King Faisal, who was educated in
Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. The first time Haifa saw Bandar, she said, "I
had a feeling I would marry this man." She was sixteen. Although they were
cousins, they hadn't grown up together, and four years passed before they
met again. "It was not a prearranged marriage," she said with emphasis.
Queen Iffat, Haifa's mother, had been a friend of Bandar's grandmother, and
she, too, liked Bandar. He and Haifa were married in 1972, and they have
In 1978, Turki ran into Bandar at the Madison Hotel in downtown Washington.
Bandar, then a major in the Saudi Air Force, was in Washington on Saudi
military business. Bandar's career as a pilot had come to an end the year
before, when he crash-landed his jet and suffered severe back injuries, and
he had decided to work his way up through the military. Turki was then
lobbying Congress to approve the $2.5-billion sale of sixty F-15 fighter
jets to the Saudis. Acquiring the jets was extremely important to the King,
who worried about the oil fields, but the talks were going poorly; although
the sale was strongly supported by President Carter, its opponents included
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential Jewish
lobby. Turki was getting a cool reception on the Hill, and was having
trouble answering technical questions from members of Congress. He asked
Bandar to help.
One of Bandar's first stops was the Oval Office, where Carter asked him to
fly to California and win the support of Ronald Reagan, the former governor,
which he did. Then, with the F-15 vote still pending, Carter asked Bandar to
help persuade Senator James Abourezk, a Democrat from South Dakota and the
first Arab-American elected to the Senate, to support the Panama Canal
treaty, which needed his vote for passage. Soon afterward, Fahd asked Bandar
to be an emissary to Carter for him, sometimes acting without the Saudi
Ambassador's knowledge. "He was only a major, but something about his
presence sucked up all the authority in the room," Colin Powell wrote of the
first time he met Bandar, in 1978, in a briefing room in Saudi Arabia. A
year later, Bandar enrolled in a master's program at the Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington. Powell, then
military assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, was naturally drawn
to Bandar, and the two began playing racquetball at the Pentagon Officers
Athletic Club. In Powell's memoir, "My American Journey," he wrote:
I remember Prince Bandar coming out of the POAC after our first game. He
had a gym bag slung over his shoulder. He flicked it off with a shrug, and
an aide materialized out of the woodwork and caught it. The prince extended
his hand into empty space, and pulled it back with a Coke can in it. It is
good to be a prince, I thought. In the years to follow, we would often work
together, and the vast social gulf between us began to shrink until the
familiarity between the kid from the South Bronx and the prince from a royal
palace approached the outrageous and the profane.
In 1982, after Reagan became President, Fahd made Bandar the military
attache at the Saudi Embassy, a move that Bandar thought would end his
career. But the following year, not long after Fahd became king, Bandar
became the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. "When I first got to
America, I didn't understand politics," Bandar said. "I was confused by it.
Then it became like a game, like a drug. I enjoyed the game. It was exotic
and exciting. There was no blood drawn. It was physically safe, but
Bandar's relationship with Bill Clinton began when Clinton was the governor
of Arkansas and asked the Saudis to help pay for a center for Middle East
studies at the University of Arkansas. Bandar saw Clinton as an
international romantic. "He gets excited by the possibility of talking to
his enemy and converting him," he told me while Clinton was still President.
"If Clinton leaves office . . . and doesn't have a relationship with Cuba,
North Korea, Iran, or Libya, he will feel internally that he has not
accomplished his mission." Bandar says that he liked Clinton; he had a
first-class brain and could sell anything to anybody. But Bandar had
problems with what he called a "weak-dicked" foreign-policy team, finding
its members too political, or culturally arrogant, while they, in turn,
found him manipulative and untrustworthy. "It's classic Bandar to set one
person against another," a top Clinton Administration official told me; he
asked for anonymity, because, he said, "Bandar has me in his sights."
Bandar's relationship with Samuel (Sandy) Berger, Clinton's
national-security adviser, was particularly tense, and became more so when
Clinton, near the end of his term, tried to broker a broad peace plan
between Israel and several Arab countries.
On a weekend in March of 2000, Clinton summoned the Saudi Ambassador to the
White House, a meeting also attended by Berger and Bandar's charge
d'affaires, Rihab Massoud. Clinton told Bandar that he needed his help in
arranging a summit with the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad-which Clinton
saw as a prelude to a larger plan for peace between Israel and the Arab
states. Assad was known to trust Bandar, and Bandar's participation was
secretly endorsed by Ehud Barak. "I know what President Assad wants,"
Clinton said; according to Bandar's version, Assad wanted Israel to withdraw
from the Golan Heights, and to the borders that were taken in the 1967 war.
As Bandar recalled, Clinton planned to pressure Barak to satisfy Assad's
demands; if he succeeded, he would call for a summit. Bandar asked Clinton
to repeat all this, and told Massoud to write it down and repeat it to
Clinton. Clinton also wanted Bandar to ask Assad to quiet the fighting in
That night, Bandar flew to Saudi Arabia to consult with Crown Prince
Abdullah; from there he went to Syria, where he met with Assad and his
Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Shaara. Assad, according to Bandar's account,
asked him to repeat Clinton's message three times. "Clinton knows what I
want," Assad said. "God knows he knows what I want. We have spoken fifteen
times." Bandar was unaware that the two men had had so much contact. When
Bandar mentioned the fighting in South Lebanon, Shaara interrupted to say
that they had no influence. Assad reportedly smiled and said that he thought
they could take care of the problem.
"Bingo," Bandar told Berger. Clinton was leaving the next day for India and
Pakistan, and Berger told Bandar that if Clinton got what he needed from
Barak they would set up a summit with Assad.
Word leaked out that Assad was going to Geneva to meet with Clinton. Since
Assad was reluctant to travel-Barak privately called him the President of
Albania, because he hated to leave home-this led to speculation that
something major was about to happen. But no announcement followed the
meeting, which lasted for three hours; there were rumors that Assad had not
accepted Clinton's offer-had in fact impatiently dismissed Clinton's
proposals. Later, the Syrians told the Saudis that the Americans had not
offered them the deal that Assad had been promised. The collapse of the
talks was viewed as a serious failure. The Crown Prince, worried that Assad
would now think that the Saudis had tried to trick the Syrians, told Bandar
to return to Syria and explain exactly what Clinton had told him. "To hell
with this Administration," Bandar said to himself.
Several days later, Bandar had dinner with Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright, who had been in Geneva for the summit. Bandar liked Albright, and
admired her toughness. At dinner, by Bandar's account, Albright immediately
complained about Assad. Before the summit, she said, Assad kept saying that
he wanted to know Barak's bottom line, and so Clinton sent Dennis Ross, the
special Middle East envoy, to find out.
After a few more minutes of conversation, it became clear to Bandar that
Albright had no idea that Clinton had asked him to take a message to Assad.
"Son of a bitch," Albright said, apparently angry that Berger had left her
out of the preliminary talks. "That Sandy."
Albright told Bandar that in a meeting with Clinton-apparently three days
before Bandar's meeting-they had agreed to send Ross to Israel. "Now I
understand why Assad looked so stupid to me," Bandar remembers Albright
saying-referring to Assad's apparent refusal to listen to Clinton. Bandar
asked Albright to tell the President that, from then on, he would discuss
Middle East issues only if both Albright and Berger were in the room.
Albright told me that she "certainly had the dinner" with Bandar, but did
not think she would have used expletives to describe Berger. "I'm sure I was
annoyed with Sandy," she said, "because I had not been told that Bandar was
carrying this message" to Assad.
I later asked Dennis Ross about the Saudi version, and he acknowledged that
he had learned about Bandar's meeting with Clinton after the fact, though he
did know Bandar was going to talk to Assad. "Had I been in on the meeting
with the President, given my ear, I would have known how Bandar would hear
what the President was saying to him," Ross said. He added, "He was bound to
interpret it the way he did." Nonetheless, Ross went on, "Bandar is right
that there was a misunderstanding, at least in terms of what he said to
Assad . . . . If Assad had listened and had suddenly been disappointed, I
could have understood it. But he didn't listen. He was saying no from the
beginning of the meeting." Still, he said, Bandar was always honest with him
and had played a significant role in the peace negotiations. "He always did
what he said he was going to do," Ross said. A spokesman for the Clinton
Administration said that neither Clinton nor Berger could specifically
recall the Oval Office meeting. "It is true that we asked for Bandar's help
on this with Assad, but it is not true that Clinton said he could deliver
the 1967 borders," the spokesman said.
An aide to Bandar, however, said, "How could we misinterpret it?" Nothing
short of Clinton's assurances would have lured Assad to a summit, the aide
said. "With Assad it was not this or that. It was not get half or
three-quarters or seven-eighths," he continued. "Nothing could be clearer."
Clinton, who continued to apply his considerable energy to finding a Middle
East solution, came to believe, in December of 2000, that he had finally
found a formula for peace; he asked once more for Bandar's help. Bandar's
first reaction was not to get involved; the Syrian summit had failed, and
talks between Barak and Arafat at Camp David, in July, had collapsed. But
when Dennis Ross showed Bandar the President's talking papers Bandar
recognized that in its newest iteration the peace plan was a remarkable
development. It gave Arafat almost everything he wanted, including the
return of about ninety-seven per cent of the land of the occupied
territories; all of Jerusalem except the Jewish and Armenian quarters, with
Jews preserving the right to worship at the Temple Mount; and a
thirty-billion-dollar compensation fund.
Arafat told Crown Prince Abdullah that he wanted Bandar's help with the
negotiations. "There's not much I can do unless Arafat is willing to
understand that this is it," Bandar told the Crown Prince.
On January 2, 2001, Bandar picked up Arafat at Andrews Air Force Base and
reviewed the plan with him. Did he think he could get a better deal? Bandar
asked. Did he prefer Sharon to Barak? he continued, referring to the
upcoming election in Israel. Of course not, Arafat replied. Barak's
negotiators were doves, Bandar went on, and said, "Since 1948, every time
we've had something on the table we say no. Then we say yes. When we say
yes, it's not on the table anymore. Then we have to deal with something
less. Isn't it about time we say yes?" Bandar added, "We've always said to
the Americans, 'Our red line is Jerusalem. You get us a deal that's O.K. on
Jerusalem and we're going, too.' "
Arafat said that he understood, but still Bandar issued something of an
ultimatum: "Let me tell you one more time. You have only two choices. Either
you take this deal or we go to war. If you take this deal, we will all throw
our weight behind you. If you don't take this deal, do you think anybody
will go to war for you?" Arafat was silent. Bandar continued, "Let's start
with the big country, Egypt. You think Egypt will go to war with you?"
Arafat had had his problems with Egypt, too. No, he said. "I'll prove it to
you, just to confirm," Bandar went on. Bandar called the Egyptian
Ambassador. Bandar reported that the Egyptian Ambassador, who was to join
them shortly, was willing to support the peace process. "Is Jordan going to
go to war? Syria go to war? So, Mr. Arafat, what are you losing?"
When Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian Ambassador, joined them, at the
Ritz-Carlton, Bandar repeated much of his advice. Arafat said that he would
accept Clinton's proposal, with one condition: he wanted Saudi Arabia and
Egypt to give him political cover and support. Bandar and Fahmy assured him
that they would, and Arafat left for the White House.
Arafat was supposed to return to Bandar's house after his meeting with
Clinton and, with the Egyptian Ambassador present, call the Crown Prince and
President Mubarak. After three hours, when Arafat still hadn't shown up, the
Egyptian Ambassador told Bandar that something must have gone wrong. Bandar,
too, was worried and called Arafat's security detail. Arafat had left the
White House twenty minutes earlier, he was told, and was back at the Ritz.
When Bandar called, Arafat said that he needed to talk to him at once.
George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, was on his way to the hotel to discuss
the plan, and Arafat was then supposed to return to the White House. Bandar,
accompanied by the Egyptian Ambassador, hurried to the Ritz.
Arafat said that the meeting with Clinton had been "excellent," but Bandar
did not believe him; he thought that Arafat's staff looked as if they had
just come from a funeral. The Egyptian Ambassador later privately remarked
that Arafat looked dead. Bandar asked Arafat if he wanted to talk to the
Crown Prince or President Mubarak. No, Arafat replied. He said that he'd had
a great time with the President, but the meeting had turned sour when Dennis
Ross joined them. Yet, he went on, he and Clinton were in agreement. Bandar,
concealing his disbelief, said that was good news. Soon after this exchange,
Bandar got a note from a security officer, which said, "Urgent. Call the
President." In the corridor, Bandar called the White House and reached
"Congratulations," Bandar said, loudly and sarcastically, for he knew by
then that the talks had failed. On what? Berger asked. "Arafat is telling me
you guys have a deal." Not true, Berger said, adding that he and Clinton had
made it clear to Arafat that this was his last chance. Please, Berger said,
tell Arafat that this is it. "It's too late," Bandar recalls saying. "That
should have happened with the White House, not with me." (A spokesman for
Clinton recalled, "At one point, Clinton said, 'It's five minutes to twelve,
Mr. Chairman, and you are going to lose the best and maybe the only
opportunity that your people will have to solve this problem on satisfactory
grounds by not being able to make a decision.' . . . The Israelis accepted.
They said they had reservations and Arafat never accepted.")
Bandar believed that the White House had hurt its cause by not pressing an
ultimatum. Arafat, though, was committing a crime against the
Palestinians-in fact, against the entire region. If it weren't so serious,
Bandar thought, it would be a comedy. He returned to Arafat's room and sat
down, trying to remember: "Make your words soft and sweet." Bandar began,
"Mr. President, I want to be sure now. You're telling me you struck a deal?"
When Arafat said it was so, Bandar, still hiding his fury, offered his
congratulations. His wife and children were waiting for him in Aspen, he
said, and he wanted to go. Bandar could see the life draining out of Arafat.
He started to leave, then turned around. "I hope you remember, sir, what I
told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This
is going to be a crime." When Bandar looked at Arafat's staff, their faces
The next evening, a White House spokesman said that Arafat had agreed to
accept Clinton's proposals, with reservations, only as the basis for new
talks. Arafat said later that he had not been offered as much as had been
described. When Bandar told all this to the Crown Prince, Abdullah was
surprised, particularly about the offer on Jerusalem. A few months later,
Abdullah asked Clinton, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, whether Bandar's
description of the offer was correct. Clinton confirmed Bandar's details,
and said that the failure of these last negotiations had broken his heart.
Later still, the Crown Prince told Bandar he was shocked that Arafat had
wasted such an opportunity, and that he had lied to him about the American
offer. Bandar told associates that it was an open secret within the Arab
world that Arafat was not truthful. But Arafat had them trapped: they
couldn't separate the cause from the man, because if you attacked the man
you attacked the cause. "Clinton, the bastard, really tried his best,"
Bandar told me last week when we met at his house in McLean. "And Barak's
position was so avant-garde that it was equal to Prime Minister
Rabin"-Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in November, 1995. "It broke my
heart that Arafat did not take that offer."
Before the outcome of the 2000 election was settled, Bandar had asked
George H. W. Bush to go pheasant shooting with him at an estate that he owns
in England. It was to be a kind of Desert Storm reunion. Dick Cheney had
accepted; so had former Secretary of State James Baker, the former
national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and General H. Norman
Schwarzkopf, the commander of the U.S. Central Command during the Gulf War.
But when the shooting party arrived, on November 14th, Cheney had dropped
out, as had Baker, who was in Florida managing the recount battle. A month
later, when Al Gore conceded, Bandar felt that it was a victory not only for
the Bush family but for Saudi Arabia. "Happy days are here again," one of
his aides said, almost singing the words, when I saw him at the Saudi
Embassy shortly after Bush's Inauguration.
In Saudi Arabia, great things were expected of George W. Bush. He was the
son of the American with the most iconic status in Saudi Arabia, and the
team that he had assembled vis-a-vis the Middle East was considered
first-rate: Powell, Cheney, and Tenet, a Clinton Administration holdover who
had Bandar's endorsement. There were people with access to Bush who had deep
experience in the region: his father, Scowcroft, James Baker.
But as violence in the Middle East intensified and Barak blamed Arafat for
the failure of the peace talks, Bandar began to worry. The Arab world was
watching Al Jazeera, the satellite television network, which was constantly
showing images of Israeli soldiers and suffering Palestinians. Bandar
understood as well as anyone why Bush did not want to get involved. It was a
mess, and Bush made it clear that he had no prestige to waste. Bandar was
particularly angry with Arafat because if he publicly defended Barak's
account it would make him sound like an apologist for Barak and Israel. "I
was there. I was a witness. I cannot lie," he said privately.
Ariel Sharon was elected in February of 2001, and, according to a Saudi
source, Arafat later said that Sharon had sent his son to say that Barak's
deal was off the table; Sharon, however, could envision a process whereby
the Palestinians might end up with forty-five per cent of the occupied
territories, but not Jerusalem. Isn't that a great starting point? Arafat
reportedly said. Bandar, when he heard that, was incredulous.
Yet he continued to press Bush and Powell to do something, even if they
didn't trust Arafat. The issue was bigger than one man; it was roiling the
Arab world. Bandar told Bush and Powell that in America he saw perhaps two
minutes a day of network news about the region, "but when I go there I see
five, six hours a day of it."
It did not help Bush in the Arab world that he seemed to place all the
blame on Arafat. In May, Crown Prince Abdullah publicly declined an
invitation to the White House. "We want them to look at the reality and to
consider their conscience," he said to a reporter for the Financial Times.
"Don't they see what is happening to Palestinian children, women, the
elderly-the humiliation, the hunger?"
Bandar attributed some of the problems to a lack of knowledge by
Condoleezza Rice, who was, after all, a Russian expert. Powell, he believed,
was on his side, as was Tenet. He also believed that Vice-President Cheney,
who, as the Secretary of Defense, had dealt extensively with the Saudis
during the Persian Gulf War, would be a big help. But, as the months passed,
Bandar and his aides kept hearing that Cheney and some senior Pentagon
officials were saying that the Saudis were not seriously upset at the
Administration's lack of involvement.
In August, the Crown Prince saw on television an Israeli soldier pushing an
elderly Palestinian woman. When she fell, she grabbed the soldier's leg and
he stepped on her. The Crown Prince, in a rage, called Bandar. "This is it.
Those bastards!" he yelled, according to an account that Bandar has given
associates. "Even women-they're stepping all over them." He ordered Bandar,
who was in Aspen, to return to Washington and to deliver a message: Starting
today, you go your way and we will go our way. From then on, the Saudis
would look out for their own national interests. The high-ranking Saudi
military delegation that had just arrived in Washington for meetings at the
Pentagon was ordered to return home immediately.
The message represented a fundamental shift in Saudi policy, and Bandar
left for Washington deeply worried. On August 27th, he met with Rice at her
White House office. "This is the hardest message I've had to deliver between
our two countries since I started working in this country, in 1983," Bandar
began, according to official Saudi notes that were later confirmed by an
Administration source. For the next several minutes, Bandar summarized
relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. "We were your friend
when it was not fashionable to be your friend. We stood in the fifties and
sixties with you in the region when nobody was." He continued, "The biggest
challenge, of course, to the two of us was Saddam Hussein's invasion of
Kuwait." The Crown Prince, he said, was deeply disturbed by the "continued
Israeli actions, horrible actions, as if Jewish blood is not equal to
Palestinian"-in particular, the practice of punishing the families of people
suspected of committing terrorist acts. "We wonder how the American people
would have accepted the President of the United States ordering all the
McVeigh family houses to be destroyed or burning their farms," he said,
referring to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. It seemed as if the
United States had made a strategic decision to adopt Sharon's policy as
American policy. "In light of all that, the Crown Prince feels that he
cannot continue dealing with the United States," Bandar told Rice. "We feel
that since you have taken such a decision, then we also are obliged to take
our own decision."
Rice told Bandar that she was shocked by the message and would take it
immediately to the President. But she wanted Bandar to understand that the
United States had not adopted a new strategic policy for the region.
Within thirty-six hours, Bandar was on his way to Riyadh with a
conciliatory response from Bush. Nothing should ever break the relations
between their two countries, Bush wrote to the Crown Prince in a two-page
letter dated August 29th. "I am troubled and feel deeply the suffering of
ordinary Palestinians in their day to day life and I want such tragedies and
sufferings to end," Bush wrote. "I firmly believe that the Palestinian
people have a right to self-determination and to live peacefully and
securely in their own state in their own homeland." Not even Clinton had
publicly supported a Palestinian state.
On September 7th, Bandar returned to Washington with a letter from Abdullah
to Bush, and a meeting was hurriedly arranged in the family quarters at the
White House. Bush was there, as were Cheney, Rice, and Powell. As Bandar was
walking in, Powell cornered him. "What the fuck are you doing?" witnesses
recall Powell asking. "You're putting the fear of God in everybody's hearts
here. We've all come rushing here to hear this revelation that you bring
from Saudi Arabia. You scared the shit out of everybody." Bandar replied, "I
don't give a damn what you feel. We are scared ourselves."
In his letter, the Crown Prince said that he had taken immediate steps. He
had got in touch with Arafat and had "obtained from him a clear promise to
exert a hundred per cent effort as you have requested." (Bandar had also
brought a letter from Arafat stating the same promise.) The Crown Prince
said that he had sent his Foreign Minister and Bandar to meet separately
with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and had showed
Bush's letter to them. "I wish to inform you that those Arab leaders find in
your letter just what I did, the beginning of a bringing back of the peace
process to the right path." He urged Bush to take charge of initiating the
revival of the peace process. "The efforts exerted in the past by your
predecessors were not in vain, but rather brought the parties closer," he
said in closing his letter. "Today, we face a turning point that leads
either to disaster, God forbid, or to peace. This historical turning point
requires a historical leader who will prevent this disaster. I have great
hope in you, Mr. President, that you will be that leader."
Bush agreed that he should make public his support for a Palestinian state,
and the remainder of the meeting focussed on how to announce it. Powell was
scheduled to leave Monday for a meeting in Peru, and they made plans to
regroup on Thursday, after he returned. Bandar continued to work on the
proposals, and on Monday night, September 10th, he floated in the indoor
pool at his house in McLean, contentedly smoking a cigar.
Bandar slept late on the morning of September 11th. He was walking across
his bedroom when he glanced at one of the ten television screens he kept on
and saw fire coming out of one of the World Trade Center towers. "The first
thing that came to my mind was that I'm going next week to the U.N. I am
going to change my hotel and I am going to go to one of those hotels where
you can live on the third or second floor," he recalled. "King Hussein of
Jordan, bless his soul, used to tell me, 'Bandar, take my advice. Always
stay on the first floor.' I said, 'Why, Majesty?' and he said, 'This fire.
Or somebody starts shooting you. You jump out the window you break a leg,
but if you are forty feet . . .' " Then he saw the second
plane coming. "I
had the same feeling I had when Rabin was assassinated," he said. "I almost
had a heart attack. And the first thing that came to my mind was 'I hope
it's not an Arab, because it would be war.' And I had the same feeling here.
'I hope they are not Arabs.' " When Tenet called the next night to tell him
that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers appeared to have been Saudi
nationals, Bandar recalled, "I felt the whole world collapse over my
As the day wore on, Bandar watched the coverage. At one point, he saw
Palestinian youths celebrating in the street. "I thought, My God, the whole
impression this nation is going to have of us, the whole world, will be
formed in the next two or three days.'' He saw a congressman warning, "We
will remember those people."
Two days after the attacks, the President asked Bandar to come to the White
House. Bush embraced him and escorted him to the Truman balcony. Bandar had
a drink and the two men smoked cigars. Bandar was in a daze, still hoping
that the news of Saudi participation would turn out to be a mistake. Al
Qaeda operatives, after all, had travelled on false passports in the past,
and so far the only identity that appeared certain was that of Mohammed
Atta, the ringleader, who was an Egyptian. Until then, Bush had seemed to
Bandar to be in his father's shadow; he took more of his personality from
his mother-he shot from the hip. But this day there was no bluster. At one
point, Bush told Bandar that if any Al Qaeda operatives were captured, "if
we can't get them to cooperate, we'll hand them over to you." The clear
implication was that the Saudis could do whatever they wanted to elicit
information from suspects. A few days later, Bandar helped arrange to get
bin Laden family members out of the United States, a move that was made
under the supervision of the F.B.I. but caused public consternation.
On September 18th, Condoleezza Rice called Bandar to tell him that the
President wanted to see him at the White House. Cheney and Rice were there
when Bandar arrived; Bush's two dogs nudged people's legs, and Bush joked
that he wanted to see a friendly face before his next meeting with Jacques
Chirac, the President of France, who had been critical of him. ("Let him
wait," Bush instructed at one point during the two-hour meeting, when an
aide announced that Chirac had arrived.) Bandar advised Bush to be careful
about his rhetoric; it was fine to put the fear of God in people but not to
use words like "crusade," as he had two days earlier. Bush had visited a
mosque the day before, taking off his shoes, and Saudi television had
broadcast replays of the visit all day long.
On September 21st, Bandar returned to the White House, this time to meet
with Bush and the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al Faisal. Saud,
Princeton-educated and a bit stuffy, pledged Saudi support, but he warned
Bush that the fight could take time. In the long term, Bush needed to do
something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Use this opportunity to
do something great," Saud said. As Bandar recalled the conversation, "We
said, 'Let's keep our eye on the ball on this, let's not let anybody
distract us.'" He added, "It is always dangerous to leave the Middle East
to our own, because we can manage to find something wrong that could blow
The Saudis were worried about terrorist strikes in their own country, but
they wanted their American allies to trust them. In one important move, the
Saudis began to give the Pakistanis their daily oil allotment-almost two
hundred thousand barrels-at no charge, as an incentive to cooperate with the
Americans; they have continued to do so. As law-enforcement and intelligence
agents travelled between Riyadh and C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley,
Virginia, the Saudis let the C.I.A. know about telephone calls that they'd
intercepted between key Al Qaeda operatives congratulating each other after
September 11th, and about calls from bin Laden family members who had gone
into hiding. The help was big and small, in Bandar's view. They passed along
another offer of help from Libya's Qaddafi; they helped to trace a pre-9/11
phone conversation, between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Saudi
Arabia, that eventually led to the arrest of thirty-five Al Qaeda suspects
in Saudi Arabia.
None of this did much to stanch the anti-Saudi feeling in the United
States. Commentators and politicians complained about Wahhabism's being
taught in Saudi schools. Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz, the Minister of the
Interior, gave an interview in an Arab newspaper in which he blamed the Jews
for the terror attacks: "Who benefitted from the events of 9/11? I think
they" - the Zionists - "are behind these events." There were press stories that
the Saudis were not being helpful enough, in terms of either military
support or intelligence sharing. Saudi Arabia is "funding hatred," Senator
Joseph Biden, who was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said. These attacks put the Saudis and Bandar in an even more
delicate position: the ruling Saud family allied itself with Wahhabism's
founder more than two centuries ago, and the partnership had been
instrumental in keeping the royal family in power; Wahhabism also inspired
Saudi support for terror organizations. "We said, 'You preach and I fight,'
" Bandar told me last month, and added, "The reality is that we are the only
government system where the leadership is more forward-looking than the
public, and that is a big problem."
Bandar acknowledged the Saudi hijackers, but he called them loners and
misfits. Bush, in a press conference on September 24, 2001, said that the
Saudis had "been nothing but cooperative." A couple of months after the
terrorist strikes, Tenet privately called Saudi cooperation "fantastic," and
Dale Watson, who was then the F.B.I.'s chief of counterterrorism, told me
that the Saudis were doing whatever they were asked to do.
Bandar believed that before September 11th Saudi Arabia had been at least
as vigilant about Al Qaeda as the United States, and certainly more vigilant
than Britain or Germany. I later asked Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I.
director, whether Bandar was right in asserting that the Saudis were working
hard to pursue bin Laden before September 11th. Freeh, who is now a senior
vice-chairman at the credit-card company MBNA, in Delaware, said, "From
where I sat and from what I knew . . . Al Qaeda was more a threat to them
than to the U.S., particularly prior to East Africa"-the United States
Embassy bombings in 1998-"because of bin Laden's earlier activities. His
whole focus was on toppling the royal family and getting the U.S. forces out
of Saudi Arabia. The notion that the Saudis pulled their punches is not
consistent with anything I knew or saw there."
Privately, Bandar noted that, as far back as early 1998, the Saudis had
alerted the United States to the prominent and dangerous role played by an
Al Qaeda operative named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Nashiri's arrest this past
November made front-page news, and he was identified as the leader of Al
Qaeda's operations in the Gulf; the Saudis participated in the arrest. The
Saudis had asked the United States for help in capturing Nashiri in the
winter of 1998, after they found three buried suitcases containing nine
antitank Sagger missiles and identified him as the leader of Al Qaeda in
Saudi Arabia. (The missiles were apparently intended for use against the
C.I.A. and F.B.I. sources confirmed that Bandar had asked the White House
and the C.I.A. for help in capturing Nashiri, who had apparently fled to
Yemen, and they acknowledged that his request was not treated aggressively
until later, when Nashiri was identified as one of the strategists behind
the East Africa Embassy bombings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, in the
fall of 2000. "I'm not superstitious, but it sure is a bad omen," Bandar
said, in October of 2001. "Every time we lose track of this guy, something
In early November of 2001, Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, who
was in Washington, told the Times that Bush's unwillingness to force a
Middle East solution "makes a sane man go mad"-despite private views in
Saudi Arabia about Arafat's untrustworthiness. In February, the Crown Prince
publicly offered to normalize relations between the Arab states and Israel
if Israel withdrew from all the occupied territories.
Bush, in a series of comments, seemed to vacillate between supporting
Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist attacks as it saw fit and
urging Israel to exercise restraint. In April, Bandar, in a speech at the
University of Oklahoma, seemed to signal a growing disillusionment with the
Bush Administration. "I'm proud, not ashamed, to be a friend of the United
States," he said, and he added, "But I'm frustrated." A few days later, Bush
called Sharon "a man of peace." On April 16th, the White House announced
that Crown Prince Abdullah planned to visit Bush at his ranch in Crawford.
The circumstances were not promising. Abdullah's opinion of Bush was
increasingly unfavorable, and by this time Bush had begun to declare that
one of his goals was "regime change" in Iraq. Saudi support was essential,
but unless something was done about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the
Saudis could not oppose another Arab country, not even Iraq.
On April 24th, the eve of the visit, Bandar received a private briefing
from one of the President's senior officials: Bush, he was told, was unaware
of what was happening in the streets of the West Bank or Gaza. "This guy
doesn't watch TV-he just doesn't know this stuff," the official said, adding
that Bush's aides, many of whom were staunchly pro-Israel, shielded him.
Bandar was in a hotel in Houston preparing Abdullah for his meeting with
Bush the next morning. Bandar wanted Bush to see what Arabs saw daily on Al
Jazeera, hoping that it would open his eyes, and so his aides were trying to
get photographs. Eventually, they were able to find some, mostly pictures of
dead Palestinian children-a five-year-old with a bullet wound to his head, a
child cut in half. He did not want to show the most gruesome; the purpose
was not to make Bush sick.
Bandar knew that if Bush was unaware of views within the Arab world, he
couldn't understand the impact that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was
having in the region. Already the trip was becoming something of a fiasco.
On Abdullah's first day in Houston, the White House had faxed Bandar a draft
of a proposed communique, to be released by the two leaders following their
meeting, which seemed to place all the blame for the increase in violence on
Arafat and the Palestinians. "This is ridiculous-this is unacceptable,"
Bandar said to an aide, and he picked up the phone to call Powell. The
Secretary of State claimed that he hadn't seen the latest version, and had
rejected previous drafts. The draft had come from Vice-President Cheney's
office, the rationale being that Abdullah is the Vice-President of Saudi
Arabia. Bandar faxed back his rejection to the White House and warned that
Cheney should not under any circumstances give a copy of it to the Crown
A meeting with Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Houston
hadn't gone well, either. Rumsfeld had spent most of the meeting giving the
Crown Prince a lengthy presentation on how much more accurate the American
weaponry used in Afghanistan was than that used in the Gulf War. The Crown
Prince was also given a new draft of the proposed communique, one that left
the impression that the discussion of the Middle East crisis was secondary
to issues like the Saudi desire to join the World Trade Organization. The
Crown Prince had expected that the communique was a chance to offer a bold
agreement on a peace initiative. Do they think I'll be happy just because I
came to the ranch? he asked. That I want to say we met and had fun?
Early the next morning, after the Crown Prince's plane arrived in Waco,
Powell joined Abdullah, Saud, and Bandar for the drive to Crawford. Powell
had heard discouraging reports about the meeting with Cheney and Rumsfeld,
and it was clear that Abdullah was upset. Abdullah, speaking to Powell,
stressed that he had put himself at great risk to meet with Bush. Arab
friends, by phone, fax, and letter, were telling him not to go. He said that
he intended to deliver a blunt message: that Bush had to get involved, and
that he had to end the Israeli occupation-including the siege of Arafat in
With Bush were Cheney, Rice, Powell, and Andrew Card, the President's chief
of staff. With the Crown Prince were Bandar, Rihab Massoud, the Embassy's
charge d'affaires, and Saud. The Crown Prince said that he was disappointed
by the proposed talking points; he repeatedly said that Bush had to do
something to end the occupation. Abdullah emphasized the danger to the
region; there was rioting in Bahrain, the most peaceful of countries. Egypt
was in trouble, and so was Jordan-Jordan could go up in flames. But when the
Crown Prince pressed him for the details of a plan to end the occupation,
Bush and his advisers kept saying that they had told Sharon to get out of
Abdullah told Bush that he had no idea of the risk he had taken in coming
to Crawford; he seemed to be deeply frustrated. "I will get on my aircraft
and go home," witnesses recalled him saying. "I will tell people I have
tried. I have delivered my message to the President and maybe you didn't
understand . . . . I have tried and you cannot do anything . . . . I cannot go
on as if nothing has happened. I am going to leave and say I have failed,
not you. I have failed by not convincing you, by not persuading you with
Bush replied that he didn't want the Crown Prince to fail. Powell stood up
and pulled Bandar outside. Standing nose to nose on the porch, the two
started to argue. "What the hell are you guys doing?" Powell demanded of
Bandar, according to two Administration sources. "You came here and expected
us to do it in the same day you're here? In three hours?" Bush, curious at
the sight, joined them on the porch, listening to the exchange. He seemed
surprised at how intense and emotional everyone was. Bandar said to Powell,
"Well, we told you what we needed. We communicated two days ago, and we
thought we'd hear something last night. We didn't hear anything. You've
known this is what he needed."
The exchange moved back inside, and Powell pressed Abdullah to stay. "You
can't stand that kind of failure. Neither can we, and, more important, the
situation can't," Powell said to Abdullah, according to Administration
sources. Bush, Powell said, needed time to try to do what Abdullah had
asked. Finally, Abdullah announced that he would remain if Powell was
serious about fixing the problem, and he and Bush resumed their discussion.
But this time they would meet with only a translator, and discard the
talking points, which seemed to make everyone nervous. Bandar, Saud, and
Massoud left the room, with Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Card, and waited as
the two leaders talked. Cheney, who was on crutches because he had injured a
foot, hardly said a word. Once thought to be an ally, Cheney was
increasingly perceived by the Saudis as insensitive to what was happening in
the region. His silence intensified that feeling.
The meeting was scheduled to last twenty minutes, but Bush and Abdullah
talked for two hours. At one point, the Crown Prince handed Bush the
photographs of the dead Palestinian children. Do you think it's right? he
asked. Bush appeared surprised by the photographs and his eyes seemed to
well up. One person familiar with the conversation summarized Bush's
comments: "I want peace. I don't want to see any people killed on both
sides. I think God loves me. I think God loves the Palestinians. I think God
loves the Israelis. We cannot allow this to continue." At one point, Bush
told Abdullah that he believed Muslims and Israelis were all God's children
and that God didn't want to see children from either side die. The meeting
ended with both leaders promising to deliver the other side: Abdullah
pledged to rein in Arafat and Bush to rein in Sharon.
Someone suggested a break for lunch. Before beginning to eat, Bush bowed
his head and reached for Saud's hand. "Let us pray," he said. A look of
panic came over the Crown Prince, who was unfamiliar with the Christian
custom of saying grace before meals. "What is he doing?" he whispered to an
aide sitting nearby. "What should I do?" Powell also looked stricken, as if
he couldn't believe what Bush was saying in front of his Muslim guests.
Abdullah later told others that he had been impressed with the seriousness
of Bush's religious convictions. Bush called Sharon, who ended the Israeli
siege of Arafat's compound. Over the next several months, some progress was
made, although it was eclipsed by more suicide bombings and new reprisals
from Israel. In January, Bush privately assured the Crown Prince that he
would re-start the peace process when the war in Iraq was over. Late last
week, Bush announced his long-promised "road map" for peace in the region.
On August 6th, the Washington Post reported that a Rand Corporation analyst
briefing a top Pentagon advisory board earlier that summer had described
Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United States. A week later, nearly three
thousand relatives of the victims of the September 11th attacks filed a
private lawsuit against members of the Saudi royal family, accusing them of
having financial ties to Al Qaeda. Lawyers for the plaintiffs alleged that
some of the financing for Al Qaeda had come from Saudi charitable
organizations; among the defendants was Bandar's father, Prince Sultan, who
oversees one of the largest charitable foundations in Saudi Arabia. (Last
March, the Times reported that the Administration and the Saudis tried to
close two branches of a Saudi charity suspected of aiding extremists under
cover of supporting Islamic schools and orphanages. Branches in Bosnia and
Somalia were shut down, but it wasn't clear whether the charity's activities
These events, particularly the Pentagon briefing, caused an uproar in Saudi
Arabia, even though Bush and Administration officials said that neither
reflected the position of the American government. Bush invited Bandar to
Crawford. At the end of last August, Bandar flew from Aspen to Texas and
picked up his wife, Haifa, who was there with some of their children
visiting their second-oldest son, a student at Baylor University, in
Houston. The family went on to Crawford, where, after a while, Bush and
Bandar broke off for a private meeting. Bush wanted Bandar to know that he
was trying to send a message; he'd learned from his father the value of
access to a President. To the Saudis, he was saying that he had invited
Bandar to the same place where he had invited only three foreign leaders:
Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, and Crown Prince Abdullah. To the American
public, he was saying that he was fed up with having to insist that Saudi
Arabia was cooperating with America.
Bush also wanted it known that he was serious about Iraq. He asked Bandar
what had happened with the Clinton Administration, and Bandar described how,
in October of 1994, King Fahd had told Clinton that neither country could
afford to have Saddam Hussein remain in power, from a military, political,
or economic point of view. Fahd, Bandar said, suggested that Saudi Arabia
and the United States spend as much on covert operations to get Saddam as
they had in Afghanistan to oust the Soviets-about a billion dollars each.
The Saudis, in fact, were willing to spend more. Fahd told Clinton that he
had rounded up support for the plan from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and even
Iran. They shook hands on it, Bandar told Bush, but nothing came of it. "For
six years, we've been given the runaround," he said. "Therefore everybody
here"-in Saudi Arabia-"adjusted to cover their rear ends."
Bandar told Bush that he and Turki bin Faisal, who was then the
intelligence chief, had regularly called the National Security Council staff
or the C.I.A. director, John Deutch, to ask about progress. Deutch, he said,
had at one point suggested that perhaps the two sides should contribute
twenty million dollars each-such a small sum that it began to raise
questions in Bandar's mind about America's seriousness. When Tenet replaced
Deutch and Berger took over as national-security adviser, Bandar continued
to press both men on the covert plan. Eventually, Bandar told Bush, "we
became convinced the Americans had no intention to remove Saddam and they
were happy with the status quo." A spokesman for the Clinton White House
said, "It is true that we were working with the Saudis. It is not true that
we were not taking this seriously. It did not succeed." The spokesman, who
asked Clinton a series of questions that I had submitted to him, said that
he could not answer any questions about the agreement between Fahd and
Clinton: "This is just one piece I'm not going to get into in any great
detail because it's very classified kind of stuff."
Bush asked Bandar to tell him what Saddam was like. Bandar was certain that
Saddam would not forgive or forget his defeat in the Gulf War, and that any
talk of compromise or containment was futile. It was his personal opinion,
not his government's, but he believed that either Saddam would kill all
those associated with the Gulf War or they would have to kill him. But, most
important, Saddam knew that the only way to stay alive was to stay in power.
Bush wondered how he stayed in power after killing so many people; he said
he couldn't understand "how those dumb son-in-laws" went back-referring to
Saddam's in-laws, who several years ago returned from Jordan, after being
promised safe passage, and were executed. Bandar replied that Saddam stayed
in power because he was ruthless, and he also told Bush that even though
many European and Arab countries were saying publicly that they opposed a
military effort to topple Saddam, they were saying something else in
private. After the meeting, the White House released a photograph of Bush
sitting in a chair and Bandar perched on the arm of another, towering over
him. The two men seem to be talking intimately and intensely, like two old
friends. In Saudi Arabia, at least, the photograph carried great symbolic
In the months since the meeting in Crawford, Bandar's chief focus has been
on what appears to be an almost certain war with Iraq. At the end of
January, Bandar and Saud met with Colin Powell on an airport runway in
Zurich to report on meetings with Pervez Musharaff, and on what some Arab
countries, including Saudi Arabia, were doing to encourage Saddam to go into
exile. (The Saudis, a source told me last week, were using other means to
win support for the United States: they were about to freeze a pending
eight-hundred-million-dollar contract to buy tanks from the French.) In his
travels, Bandar, who has always prided himself on his realism, delivered a
similar message: War was coming. Nothing could be done to stop it. Their
national interests coincided with those of the United States. "It's a very
simple equation" if you live in the region, Bandar told me. "If you cannot
stop it, then it is almost an abdication of responsibility for you not to
say, 'O.K., I don't want the war, but the war is going to happen. What is it
that I can do to maximize my national interest? What is it that I need to do
to have the day after more positive than now?' "
This appeared in the New Yorker on March 24, 2003
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A Group Supports Terror
Cloaked in Peace
Being a neutral observer in a war zone is a
difficult one. But when these observers are actually partisans
masquerading as objective "monitors" of the treatment of
civilians, then the images of the conflict broadcast to the
world can be skewed beyond recognition.
Such is the case with the International Solidarity Movement, and its members in place in the West Bank and Gaza.
The ISM is often referred to in the media as a "peace movement." Its spokespersons are assumed to provide objective daily updates for foreign consuls and the foreign press based in the Middle East. For this, the group has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
This has been especially true since the accidental death of Rachel Corrie, a member who was killed during an Israeli Defense Force operation in Gaza earlier this year. Corrie's presumed martyrdom has helped galvanize favorable press attention and support for the group.
Yet there is a flip side to the portrait the ISM presents of itself. In practice, it is nothing less than a revolutionary movement that fights in support of a violent struggle. Indeed, it defines itself as anything but neutral observers of the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.
In the opening paragraph on its own Web site (www.palsolidarity.org), the ISM says that it supports the Palestinian "armed struggle" against the "occupation" and in favor of the "relevant U.N. resolutions."
It says it uses nonviolent means in support of that struggle. But as in any paramilitary operation, there are combat units and support units. In the ongoing fighting between Palestinian terrorists and Israel's army, the ISM chooses to play the role of a support unit for the Palestinians.
While it invokes the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi in its approach, the ISM rejects the nonviolent vision of both men by working in alliance with those who choose to kill people in order to advance their goals.
I asked ISM spokesman Raphael Cohen how his group defines the "occupation." His definition? "The Zionist presence in Palestine" - that is, all of the country including Israel within its pre-1967 borders.
Cohen went on to say that the ISM view of peace would be a "one-state solution," or no Israel at all. ISM spokesperson Huwaida Araf confirmed that it supports the Palestinian "right of return," which is tantamount to calling for the end of the Jewish state.
The group freely admits to:
- Spotting and reporting IDF troops in military operations and
reporting their whereabouts to armed Palestinian units. Since
ISM members are not Arabs and unarmed, they can provide reports
on troop movements to terrorists that take refuge in population
- Intervening with IDF troops at checkpoints in order to
facilitate movement of Palestinians between cities. Who knows
how many terrorists have been able to infiltrate into Israel
with the help of this group?
- Preventing Israel from monitoring and closing off the
tunnels that Palestinian terror groups have dug along the border
with Egypt. When Corrie was killed, she was trying to block an
IDF tractor that was carving a path in the direction of these
The group is now launching an international campaign to recruit 1,000 volunteers to come to Israel in the guise of unassuming tourists.
On its Web site, it advises its volunteers to "have a really good story about why you are coming and not to mention anything about ISM, or knowing, liking or planning to visit Palestinians. You must play it as though your visit is for other, Israel-based reasons, like tourism, religion, visiting an Israeli friend, etc."
[ISM spokespeople announced at a public meeting at Hebrew University on June 2nd that it would encourage future ISM participants to apply to the "birthright" program to come to Israel for free, through an
organization that has been lacking volunteers of late to join their programs.]
By definition, a movement that endorses the "armed struggle" of a terrorist organization should itself be considered a terrorist organization. Despite its peaceful image, the ISM has crossed the line from protest to an alliance with hate.
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PA Minister of Information:
Abbas and President Arafat in Harmony to Formulate Leadership
IPC: The Official Arm of the PA
Ramallah, June 8, 2003
In the aftermath of the Palestinian cabinet's weekly meeting, Mr. Nabil Amr,
Minister of Information, asserted the cabinet's adherence to the Palestinian
national rights, which comes in harmony with those of the Palestinian
Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian people of all spectrums.
Commenting on what happened at Al Aqaba summit, Mr. Amr said that the
national rights, which some people claimed to have been overlooked in Prime
Minister Mahmoud Abbas's speech in Al Aqaba summit, have been mentioned, and
consequently, they're included in the "Roadmap" peace plan. These rights,
which include Jerusalem, the refugees and borders, are the main issues of
the Palestinian cause, and can't be forfeited because it is the core of our
"We were amazed of the intense media coverage that negatively affected the
Palestinian stance in Al Aqaba. The speech that [Prime Minister] Abu Mazen
gave was talking only about the Palestinian commitments regarding the
implementation of the roadmap, nothing more and nothing less."
Minister Amr added that the Palestinian cabinet is in constant debate with
all concerned parties for the release of detainees, stopping the
assassinations, military invasions and the policy of collective punishment,
pointing out that the continuation of the Israeli occupation's offensive
seriously damages the peace efforts.
As for the dialogue with the Palestinian factions, Mr. Amr said that it
represents a strategic decision for the Palestinian cabinet, and that they
will continue it with all concerned factions. He mentioned that stopping it
would further worsen our choices, which are in need of strengthening and
The Minister of Information asserted that the Palestinian cabinet works
closely and in harmony with President Yasser Arafat, and that there's great
understanding between Prime Minister Abu Mazen and President Yasser Arafat,
which contributes to taking decisions as one Palestinian establishment.
Minister Amr told IPC correspondent that what happened at Al Aqaba had been
discussed by the executive committee of the PLO, in addition to the high
negotiations committee, and would be presented in an exceptional session of
the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), where PM Abbas would address the
PLC members about the precise details of that event and how the
Palestinians, must deal with such sensitive political matters with the
appropriate level of responsibility, using detailed and careful vocabulary
that reflect their commitment to their national position.
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Official PA Website:
PA Will Not Fight any Armed
Palestine Media Center Press Release
to IMRA for alerting us to this release]
The Palestine National Authority (PNA) and the opposition groups have both
confirmed that "dialogue" is a national decision and ruled out
inter-Palestinian fighting to resolve a dispute that erupted over Prime
Minister Mahmoud Abbas' commitments at the Palestinian-Israeli-US summit
meeting in Aqaba last Wednesday.
The dispute erupted when the Islamic Resistance Movement "Hamas" officially
announced on Friday that it was calling off its dialogue with the government
of Prime Minister Abbas (Abu Mazen) in protest to his statement at the
Wednesday summit meeting in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba with his
Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon and US President George W. Bush.
PM Abbas declared there was "no military solution" to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for an end to the "armed Intifada"
(the Palestinian uprising against the 36-year-old Israeli occupation).
The PNA Information minister Nabil Amre said Saturday after a cabinet
meeting that PM Abbas wanted to hold talks with all the Palestinian
factions, including Hamas.
"Palestinian national dialogue is a strategic decision and we will continue
dialogue with all the Palestinian factions," Amr told reporters at a press
conference at the Palestine Media Center- (PMC) in Ramallah.
"Stopping this dialogue will not help us achieve our national interests," he
Amre also said he was optimistic talks would take place with Hamas at some
"It is necessary to meet Hamas. I am optimistic that we will reopen dialogue
with Hamas," he said.
"The only way to resolve the issue . . . is through dialogue, and whoever
leaves the negotiating table is the loser."
The Palestinian Parliament plans to hold a special session soon to hear a
report from Abbas on the latest developments, Amre added.
Earlier, the PNA minister of culture Ziad Abu Amr told AFP following the
cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, "Talks will be resumed
this week and we will remove the reason that stopped the dialogue."
"I think that after Abu Mazen (PM Abbas) has met the parliament and given
the press conference on Monday, the position will be clear and we can resume
dialogue where it stopped," said Abu Amr, who is in charge of contacts with
Amre had previously announced the meetings would be held within two days, on
Sunday or Monday.
Similarly, the PNA Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath on Saturday confirmed that
Abbas would never use force against Hamas and risk civil war.
"We either reach a voluntary cease-fire . . . or there will be no deal with
Israel or road map," Shaath said in an interview with Future TV, based in
Lebanon. "Our friends in Hamas and Jihad should acknowledge this and act
Shaath however accused Hamas leaders of jumping the gun by pulling out of
the talks before Abbas could meet with them to explain what happened in
closed meetings at the summit.
"They listened to the speeches on television and declared their decision to
stop the dialogue and stop listening," he said.
Hamas officials simply were taking advantage of some Palestinian
disappointment with Abbas' speech, Shaath said. After Hamas' decision to
withdraw from the talks, thousands of supporters of the group rallied Friday
to protest the summit.
But Hamas together with four other opposition groups echoed the PNA's call
for ruling out Palestinian in-fighting to resolve the dispute and stressed
dialogue as the only means to reach an understanding with Abbas' government.
"Differences over political issues are legitimate but this absolutely does
not mean an in-fighting," said Fatah's higher committee member Samir
Mashharawi represented Fatah in a Saturday evening meeting in Gaza with
Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine DFLP).
"The intra-Palestinian differences on the questions raised (at the Aqaba and
US-Arab Sharm El-Sheikh summits) should not prevent us from gathering and
discussing them," said Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja, the deputy Speaker of the
Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), who attended the meeting.
The five Palestinian movements however vowed to continue their armed
intifada against the Israeli occupation, another participant at the joint
meeting in Gaza City said.
"We decided to pursue the armed Intifada because we reject the conclusions
of the Aqaba summit where resistance was equated with terrorism," Mohammed
el-Hindi of the Islamic Jihad told AFP.
In the meantime Palestinian Minister of Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan on
Saturday said that Hamas has no choice but to return to cease-fire talks
with the PNA because if not then the movement would be seeking a
confrontation with the PNA.
"Hamas had put the dialogue on hold, and Hamas has no other choice but to
resume the dialogue simply because if they refuse, this means they want to have confrontation," Dahlan told Reuters.
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Manipulative Jaffee Center
Israelis asked to Endorse Palestinian State Without being
Asked as to What They Mean by A Palestinian State
[The Israel Broadcasting Authority radio newsreel interpreted this poll
as an ovewhelming endorsement of the Israeli public for a Palestinian State.
Yet the question asked of the public did not clarify whether this was
referring to a demilitarized Palestinian State,as suggested by
PM Ariel Sharon or a sovereign Palestinian state, as envisioned
by the Israeli Left. The poll also did not define the contrours
of the "west bank". Since the Road Map defines the west bank as
inclusive of all areas of Jerusalem that were annexed by Israel
in 1967, knowing such a definition is vital and relevant]
8 June 2003
In comparison to last year, Israelis are today more optimistic and
supportive of the measures required to move the peace process forward. For
example, 59% now agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the
West Bank and Gaza in the framework of a peace agreement, up from 49 percent
The number of those who thought that a Palestinian state will be established
in the next five years increased from 54 percent in 2002 to 61 percent in
2003 (the figure in 2001 was 60 percent).
This data results from the 2003 annual survey conducted by the Jaffee
Center's project on Public Opinion and National Security. The survey was
conducted through face to face interviews with 1103 individuals -- a
representative sample of Israel's adult Jewish population.
Additional facets of the change in Israelis' opinion are the following:
Those who agreed to abandon all but the large settlement blocks increased
from 50 percent in 2002 to 59 percent in 2003. The number of those
supporting the idea of separation from the Palestinians by withdrawing
unilaterally even if that meant abandoning settlements increased from 48
percent in 2002 to 56 percent in 2003.
The number of those supporting the conceding of the Arab neighborhoods of
Jerusalem in the framework of a peace agreement increased from 40 percent in
2002 to 43 percent in 2003.
Also significant is the heightened sense of security in 2003, far surpassing
the low points recorded in the 2002 survey. For example: in 2003, 34% of
respondents thought the chances were high or very high that war would break
out in the next 3 years. This represents more than a 50% reduction from the
79% of 2002. 43% in 2003 predicted that peace would be strengthened between
Israel and its neighbors in the next 3 years, a dramatic increase of more
than 100% from the 21% of 2002.
In 2003, 38% stated that the Israel Defense Forces had become stronger or
much stronger in the last five years, 25% thought the army had essentially
maintained its level of strength, and 37% said that the IDF had gotten
weaker or much weaker. Comparable figures for 2002 were 11% stronger, 34%
the same, and 55% weaker.
Against the backdrop of the recent decision to dismantle illegal outposts,
it is interesting to note that 73% of the respondents answered that a
soldier may not refuse an order to evacuate settlers, and 27% said that such
an order could be disobeyed. To the question whether a soldier might refuse
to serve in the territories, 75% answered that a soldier cannot legitimately
refuse, and 25% affirmed the soldier's right to refuse the order. Two thirds
of the sample answered that a soldier must obey orders in both situations.
Another 20% said that they supported the right of the soldier not to obey
the command in either of the situations.
A slight majority - 52% - thought that the end of the conflict would not be
reached through the intervention of a third party and that the parties
themselves must work out the details. 68% of the respondents opposed the
idea of the United States imposing a solution on the parties (80% in 2002).
This might be the reason why only 40% of Israeli Jews felt that the roadmap
would end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Notwithstanding these positions,
two-thirds thought that American security guarantees could be relied upon.
The reasons for the changes in attitude of Israeli Jews to more optimistic
positions and their greater willingness to compromise over points of
contention are to be sought in the end of the war in Iraq and the apparent
winding down of the present Intifada.
The survey was directed by Professor Asher Arian, Director of the Project on
Public Opinion and National Security at the Jaffee Center for Strategic
Studies at Tel Aviv University.
The survey was carried out between April 27 and May 23, 2003, and has a 3.1%
margin of error. Fieldwork was done by the B. I. and Lucille Cohen Institute
of Public Opinion Research at Tel Aviv.
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