Britain's Prince William attends the first annual Royal Foundation Forum held at Aviva in London, February 28, 2018 . REUTERS/Chris Jackson/Pool.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS JACKSON)
As the date for the visit to the region by Prince William grows closer, the controversy over his itinerary grows bigger. Prince William will be the first member of the royal family to make an official visit to Israel – a welcome, and long overdue, gesture after 70 years of Israeli independence.
However, as details of his planned trip are revealed, it is becoming increasingly evident that the prince – second in line to the British throne after his father Charles, Prince of Wales – is so intent on avoiding offending anyone that the opposite is happening.
According to details published by Kensington Palace, the Duke of Cambridge will visit the right places in Israel – but not necessarily with the right people.
The first leg of his visit is to Jordan where he will be hosted by Crown Prince Al-Hussein Bin Abdullah II. Among other things, he is scheduled to meet entrepreneurs; tour the Jerash archeological site; meet British officers attached to the Jordanian armed forces; and see a programs focusing on helping the influx of Syrian refugees now living in the Hashemite Kingdom.
The Israeli part of his tour starts with the fairly standard visit to Yad Vashem, and later includes a visit to Jaffa and the Peres Peace Center, as well as meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
They will both undoubtedly have something to say about the next part of his trip – because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, responsible for planning his visit, has managed to upset Israeli officials, and indeed the Israeli public, by defining the Mount of Olives as being part of the Palestinian stage of his trip.
As the official statement puts it: “[The] programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories will begin with a short briefing on the history and geography of Jerusalem’s Old City from a viewing point at the Mount of Olives. From here His Royal Highness will travel a short distance to the Church of St Mary Magdalene where he will pay his respects at the tomb of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice.
“The historic nature of this tour is of course important and The Duke considers it a great privilege to be undertaking the first ever official Royal tour of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to be able to help further strengthen the friendship between Jordan and the United Kingdom. More importantly, however, The Duke is looking forward to building a real and enduring relationship with the people of the region.”
It is not yet clear how his expected visit to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will be defined.
It is possible this part will be presented as a “private visit,” similar to US President Donald Trump’s visits to the two sites last year and the visit to the Kotel by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz last week.
However, should this also be presented as part of his visit to the Palestinian Authority, Israel might well say thanks, but no thanks.
Instead of healing old wounds, the visit could reopen them. Although the Balfour Declaration of 1917 helped pave the way for the establishment of the State of Israel, relations have been ambivalent and even hostile at times.
It is impossible to forget that the British blocked Jewish immigration (but not Arab immigration) before, during and even immediately after the Holocaust. While Princess Alice is recognized as a “Righteous Gentile” for her role in hiding Greek Jews during the Shoah, it should be kept in mind how many hundreds of thousands of Jews could had been saved had an independent State of Israel already existed, or had the British authorities allowed Jews to flee to safety in the Jewish homeland.
Only Britain and Pakistan recognized Jordanian rule over (east) Jerusalem after Amman annexed it in 1948, and it seems that there are some in the Foreign Office who have never come to terms with Israel’s survival of the Six Day War and reunification of Jerusalem.
Trade relations with the UK are good; it is one of the many countries benefiting from Israeli intelligence and technology in the common fight against terrorism. Former prime minister David Cameron gave a speech in the Knesset, and Netanyahu and current Prime Minister Theresa May have met on many occasions.
Prince William is reportedly particularly excited about the chance to meet “a number of people from his own generation.” This would be an excellent time to look ahead and put relations on a new, positive footing. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people since the time of King David – it deserves more than a royal snub by the Duke of Cambridge.