Israel is 'a plucky little country'

10 years after Princess Di's death, ex-envoy recalls lunch with royalty.

princess diana 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
princess diana 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Diana, princess of Wales, thought Israel to be "a plucky little country," and she and her then-husband Prince Charles accepted an invitation to visit "at the appropriate time," Yehuda Avner, Israel's former ambassador to Great Britain, reveals in an article for The Jerusalem Post today. Writing 10 years after Diana died in a Paris car crash, Avner describes a January 1986 lunch held in honor of the then-visiting prime minister Shimon Peres at the royal residence of Kensington Palace. He recalls Peres giving Diana, who looked "exquisite in a simple creation of red," a Roman coin bearing the likeness of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, with which she was delighted. The "avowed equestrian" Charles was given a statuette of a terra-cotta horse of ancient Greek provenance. Both the gifts had been unearthed in Jerusalem. After Charles had reciprocated by presenting Peres with two biographies - of the poet T.S. Eliot, and of his own late great uncle, Lord Mountbatten of Burma - Peres expressed his gratitude and invited the royal couple to come to Israel, "where you will be received as most honored and welcome guests." Avner, who served as ambassador from 1983 to 1988, recalls that "Diana's eyes sparkled, and her husband responded, 'How kind! We'd love to come.'" But "with the silkiness of his royal breeding," Charles then "deftly qualified his acceptance with the reservation, 'at the appropriate time.'" Charles later described how he had already almost visited Israel - "illegally," when water skiing as a guest of King Hussein in Aqaba Bay. "Suddenly," said the prince, "my speedboat was chased by Jordanian coastguards. They began blaring at me through a klaxon to turn around immediately, otherwise I'd be accosted by the Israeli Navy in Eilat waters - something like that." "Pity you turned around," said Peres grinning. "Our coast guard would have cast a red carpet upon the waters in your honor." As they sat down to eat, Avner recalls, Diana asked him quietly whether Peres was married. "Very much so," the ambassador whispered back. "But his wife, Sonia, prefers not to get involved in his public activities." "I totally empathize with her," hissed the princess enigmatically. Later, the princess turned to Peres and told him, "Mr. Peres, I always think of Israel as a plucky little country." "That is kind of you," said the premier graciously. Said Charles: "As for me, I always find the Middle East so full of impenetrable intricacies... Do you think a day will ever come when you and your neighbors will get along together?" "One day," said Peres wistfully.