Britain’s Prince William to make first official royal visit to Israel and Palestine

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 4:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 4:27am

Prince William will become the first British royal to make an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, an unexpected move since political sensitivities in the region stalled a formal trip for decades.

Kensington Palace said in a tweet that the Duke of Cambridge would visit this later this year as part of a Middle East tour that will also include Jordan.

“The Duke of Cambridge will visit Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the Summer,” Kensington Palace said.

The high-profile plan was “at the request of Her Majesty’s government and has been welcomed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities,” it added.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lauded the announcement of the visit, which he said would be “the first of its kind”.

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, said William was “a very special guest, and a very special present for our 70th year of independence”.

The office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said it “welcomes this important visit, which we hope will contribute to strengthening ties of friendship between the two peoples”.

Israeli media have reported several invitations offered by Israeli officials to British royals but none, until now, have been accepted. 

The British government, which approves royal trips, condemns Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.

Prince Charles has been to Israel for two funerals, one for the former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and another for the late president Shimon Peres.

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The Duke of Gloucester, a cousin of the queen, visited the St John eye clinic in the Palestinian Territories in 2007.

Buckingham Palace and the government stressed that these were personal visits. The rejections have been received with frustration in Israel, especially as official royal tours have been made to autocratic neighbours such as Saudi Arabia.

A former editor-in-chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, David Landau, wrote in 2012 that the royal subs were “part of this nasty, petty British intrigue to deny Israel that rankling vestige of legitimation that is in their power to bestow or withhold”

Within minutes of the announcement being made on Thursday, the political sensitivities of the visit were exemplified when the British embassy in Tel Aviv released a Hebrew-language press release that omitted the word “occupied” from the Kensington Palace statement.

“What kind of translator do you have? Or did occupation disappear from your terminology when talking to Israelis?” a Palestinian official, Xavier Abu Eid, said on Twitter, pointing out that the British Consulate in Jerusalem mentioned the occupation on its Arabic-language account.

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Another Palestinian official said the visit was an opportunity for the Duke of Cambridge to travel to areas of Jerusalem annexed by Israel, see illegally built settlements and understand the UK’s historical role in the conflict.

“We hope that his visit will be a chance to see the realities on the ground,” he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak openly about the trip.