Former Lebanese President Émile Lahoud Reveals How the Right of Return Was Forced into the Saudi Peace Plan in the 2002 Arab Summit (Archival)
Former Lebanese President Émile Lahoud revealed behind-the-scenes negotiations in the 2002 Arab summit. The original initiative of Prince Abdullah, brought to the Arab summit, did not include the Right of Return, and it was added at the summit meeting due to pressure by Lahoud himself and several other Arab delegations, thus turning the Saudi Peace Plan into what is known today as the Arab Peace Plan. Lahoud was speaking in an interview on the Lebanese OTV channel on December 11, 2014.
Émile Lahoud: The Arab summit in Beirut was based on the initiative of [Crown] Prince Abdullah.
Interviewer: We are talking about March 2002.
Émile Lahoud: Right, 2002. [Saudi Foreign Minister] Saud bin Faisal came to visit me. He said to me: "This is the initiative of Prince Abdullah. I am showing it to you a week before [the summit], because you are the chairman of the summit and you should see it beforehand." I read the initiative of Prince Abdullah like this, and then I said to [Saud bin Faisal]: "But where is the Right of Return?"
Interviewer: The Right of Return
of the Palestinians...
Émile Lahoud: He said to me: "What right? That is something nobody talks about." I said to him: "Look, there is Resolution... The first of them, Resolution 194..." I said to him: "It should be included if you want to make peace." He said to me: "Talk to your friends." It is as if he was saying that we were receiving orders...
Interviewer: ...from your guardian, the Syrian president...
Émile Lahoud: The Syrian president respected us, and protected our interests, because it was in his best interests for Lebanon to be strong. This is what they did not understand. I said [to Saud bin Faisal]: "We won't talk to anybody." I asked for a copy of the [Lebanese] constitution and said to him: "Here you go. In the preamble, it says: No naturalization [of Palestinians] and no partition [of Palestine]. This [initiative] means naturalization." "You don't want to talk to anyone?" he asked. I said: "No, I don't." He said: "But the whole world and all the Arabs have gone along with it." I said to him: "I am the summit chairman, and I cannot possibly accept this." He said: "Fine. I'll go back to Prince Abdullah, and he will come a bit earlier and talk to you. After all, this is his initiative." "I have no objection," I said. When the leaders arrived, every plane landed, I would welcome the leader for five minutes according to protocol, and he would leave. The only one who stayed for 40 minutes was Prince Abdullah.
I said to him: "Prince Abdullah, if you want this initiative, add this clause to it." He said to me: "You know how much I love Lebanon. When I was young, I used to go to Bhamdoun." He did love Lebanon. Before that, in 2000, he came [to help] with electricity issues. "But this initiative is an international issue," he said. This lasted for about 40 minutes. At the end, he said: "Saud is responsible for this. He will come and talk to you." "When will he come?" I asked. "In the evening, around 22:00," he said. But the opening ceremony was the next day. I wouldn't have time. Then I was informed by the intelligence that there had been talks between Saud, Amr [Moussa] - I don't recall exactly - and the Palestinian delegation, to the effect that he should say in his speech: "We support the initiative."
Interviewer: You're referring to Yasser Arafat.
Émile Lahoud: Yes, Yasser Arafat.
Interviewer: If the Palestinian [leader] is pleased with the initiative...
Émile Lahoud: The initiative would pass. And then everybody would applaud and leave. This way, I wouldn't have been able to do anything.
Interviewer: You refused...
Émile Lahoud: I said: No way! Then they leaked a report that the Syrian [intervened]. That wasn't true. On the second day - I'll never forget this - the last two leaders to arrive were President Bashar and Prince Abdullah. They arrived, and there was someone behind Prince Abdullah... I don't remember who it was. Maybe intelligence... His assistant... Then there was some story with [the prince], and they took him to hospital...
Interviewer: Yes, he had a [heart] issue at the hotel.
Émile Lahoud: He said to me: "Abu Ammar will deliver his speech right away." He pointed his finger at me like that. I said to him: "Who the hell are you?" Everybody heard my voice, and they moved on.
Then [Walid Al-Muallem] came over and asked: "Is there a problem?"
Interviewer: [Syrian Foreign] Minister Al-Muallem?
Émile Lahoud: Yes. I said: "Go ahead, read it. Where is the Right of Return?"
Interviewer: From the opening ceremony, you didn't tell anyone...? I didn't tell anyone. Nobody knew.
Émile Lahoud: I didn't tell anyone. I operated... I decided to follow my conscience, whatever the cost. He looked at it and went like this. Then I said: "Now it is Sudan's turn [to speak]." Arafat was supposed to go up first. A TV crew from LBC was expecting to broadcast his speech first. At that moment, four delegations go up and left: The Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Saudis, and the UAE left the conference hall.
The next morning, while I was going over my papers for the meeting, I saw at my door Amr Moussa, Saud bin Faisal, the foreign minister of Jordan, the foreign minister of Egypt, and our [Foreign] Minister Mahmoud Hamoud.
Émile Lahoud: At night, they had formulated a draft... I have it all documented... I just want to give you an idea of how things worked with the Gulf people, and so on. This is why they were upset with us and with President Assad. Anyway... I read it and thought that they were deceiving me. I still have the document on which they had written in ink that if there are other issues, they would be dealt with later on - one of these was Resolution 194. I said: "Are you kidding me?!" Saud bin Faisal said to me: "Wait a minute." He went to another room and talked with Colin Powell.
[Powell] answered him, and [Saud bin Faisal] returned and said: "We must do it." [The leaders present] said "No, no, no" time and again. It became 10:00, 10:30, 11:00... [Saud bin Faisal] said to me: "They will say that you failed." I said: "No, the initiative of Prince Abdullah has failed. I won't even announce it." They discussed it and said: "Okay, we will put it out of the resolution, in the notes." I said: "No. If your intentions are genuine, put it inside the text. Otherwise, the next day you will say that what matters is the resolution, not the notes. You must include it." They put it in as article No. 4.