Prince William’s ‘non-political’ tour makes history with Israelis, Palestinians

Prince William’s ‘non-political’ tour makes history with Israelis, Palestinians
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Prince William’s current Middle East tour, the first of its kind, has triggered both interest and speculation. He has both diplomatic and personal reasons for his visit this week to the Middle East, where he will meet with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visit the tomb, in Jerusalem, of his grandfather’s mother. The Duke of Cambridge traveled to Jordan on Sunday and today will arrive in Israel. He’ll also visit the Palestinian territories in this first official tour by a member of the royal family on behalf of the British government.

In a statement June 13, a spokesman for Prince William described the visit as “non-political,” saying it will allow “a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region: their cultures, their young people, their aspirations, and their experiences.” His goal, according to Kensington Palace, is “to meet as many people from as many walks of life as possible — and to use the spotlight that his visit will bing to celebrate their hopes for the future.”

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Said Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to Britain: “No one has any intentions of involving the prince in politics.” Not everyone agrees, however. According to Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian representative in London, the duke’s visit acknowledges “that Palestine and its people exist and they have the right to self determination.”

 

Political in nature or not, the visit is historic since this is the first time since Israel’s founding that a British royal has visited the Jewish State in an official capacity (though both Princes Philip and Prince Charles have made personal visits).  

This tour is a mark in the sand for Israel, since royals have made high-profile visits to Israel’s neighbors. But until now, Britain’s Foreign Office, which advises the monarchy on overseas visits, had advised against touring Israel. The reasoning, as the Jerusalem Post has noted, is captured in a comment by a British government source to The Telegraph — that until Israel and the Palestinian Authority reach a settlement, “in Israel so much politics is caught up in the land itself that it’s best to avoid those complications altogether by not going there.”

A few years ago, The Telegraph noted: “For the foreseeable future, the prospects of a royal visit to Israel seem dim, especially as the peace process with the Palestinians continues to stagnate. … But Israelis are hopeful that either the Prince of Wales or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge might visit one day.” And that day has come.

In Israel, the region's only democracy, Prince William is scheduled to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, to lay a wreath on Tuesday. He will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as young people interested in fostering coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians, before he moves on to Tel Aviv for events at the British embassy. On Wednesday, he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

On Thursday, Prince William will take a poignant, personal moment to pay his respects at the tomb of Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Yad Vashem has named Princess Alice, who founded an order of religious sisters, as “righteous among the nations,” an honor reserved for non-Jews who risked their lives to help save Jews during World War II.

A member of the Greek royal family through her marriage to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, the princess spent the war years in Athens. Though she had become estranged from her husband, she remained in Greece while other members of the family relocated to South Africa.

During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Princess Alice worked with the Red Cross to help displaced children and sheltered a Jewish family herself. Because of her hearing difficulties, she feigned incomprehension when German authorities became suspicious and questioned her, until they eventually left her alone.

Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, will focus on young people during his visit, meeting with groups of young people who are “engaged in the fields of youth activism, social impact and the environment,” the Palace said. This is his first time visiting the Middle East, and both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have said he will be received with open arms as he makes history — a king’s welcome for the future king.

Lee Cohen is a visiting senior fellow at the Danube Institute in Budapest, and a senior fellow in European affairs at the London Center for Policy Research in New York. He formerly advised the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on European affairs, and was founding executive director of the House United Kingdom Caucus.