Israelis, Palestinians await Prince William’s inaugural royal visit

Prince William is set to arrive in Israel  for the first official visit of a member of the British royal family, ending the monarchy’s decades-long, mostly hands-off approach to one of the world’s most sensitive regions.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Though Prince William’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian-administered territories this week is being billed as non-political and places a special emphasis on technology and joint Israeli-Arab projects, the Duke of Cambridge will also be meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visiting landmark Jerusalem sites at the heart of the century-old conflict.

The prince kicked off his Middle East visit Sunday in Jordan, meeting refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria and touring the famous archaeological site at Jerash, where his wife, the former Catherine Middleton, once visited when her family lived in Jordan.

On Monday he will arrive in Israel and stay in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the elegant British-era edifice. From there he will visit coastal Tel Aviv, Israel’s financial and cultural center, and Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority government. On the docket are scheduled meetings with young entrepreneurs, visits to Israel’s vibrant hi-tech and media sectors and meetings with young Jewish and Arab football players.

Kensington Palace, William’s official residence, said the visit was aimed “to meet as many people from as many walks of life as possible — and use the spotlight that his visit will bring to celebrate their hopes for the future.”

Politics have already seeped into the agenda

But politics have already seeped into the agenda. The royal itinerary mentioned Jerusalem as being part of “the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” angering Israeli politicians. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin — who is running for mayor of the city in this year’s elections — called the reference a “distortion” that cannot “change reality.”

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Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, when the Jewish state was threatened with annihilation by the surrounding Arab countries. The city had been captured by Jordan during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. For the next 19 years, Jews were forbidden to visit the holy sites.

Israel considers the Holy City of Jerusalem home sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and an inseparable part of its capital. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as a future capital.

Britain has deep roots in the region, having governed Palestine from 1920 to 1948 under a League of Nations mandate. But it has since taken a back seat to the United States in matters of mediating war and peace efforts. The royal family has mostly steered clear of politics.

One way of doing so has been to avoid any official visits. William’s father, Prince Charles, attended the 2016 funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres but in a private capacity. During that trip, the heir to the throne paid a low-key visit to the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice. William will also visit her final resting place in Jerusalem’s Church of St. Mary Magdalene above the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

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The prince will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where his great-grandmother is recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations for her role in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.

Princess Alice, the mother of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, hid three members of the Cohen family in her palace in Athens during the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II. Thanks to her, the Cohen family survived and today lives in France. The princess died in 1969, and in 1988 her remains were brought to Jerusalem. In a 1994 visit to Yad Vashem, Prince Philip planted a tree there in her honor.

Palestinians laud visit to as recognition of ‘occupation’

Unlike his father and grandfather, Prince William will be arriving in Jerusalem at the request of Her Majesty’s government. As such, he’ll be meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides seem to be looking forward to the first-ever royal visit.

Though William is not expected to comment on the long-standing conflict and stalled peace talks, his visit is being lauded by Palestinians as recognition of their occupied status.

The Hebrew statement issued by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv announcing the visit said that the prince will visit “the Palestinian Authority,” while the English statement said he will visit “the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

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Furthermore, Kensington Palace announced that William’s visit to Jerusalem will be a part of his official visit to the PA, even though it is Israel’s capital.

In Israel, many are excitedly awaiting the pomp and pageantry that accompanies the visit of the second in line to the throne.

Sheldon Ritz, director of operations of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, said he has yet to receive the prince’s preferred menu but will encourage his staff to have him try the local cuisine of homemade hummus, tahini and falafel.

Hotel providing ‘a bit of England’

“I’m sure he’ll love that and we’re bringing in the best quality tea from England and we’re going to offer scones and clotted cream and strawberry jam. So hopefully they’ll have a bit of England here as well,” he said.

Ritz said the staff was also instructed about the proper etiquette regarding the royal guest.

“You have to bow your head, you can’t initiate any handshakes. The prince, if he wants to shake your hand, he’ll initiate it and you say: ‘Your royal highness,'” he explained. “Every time you meet him after that it’s ‘sir’ … I’ll do the orientation of the suite and I’ll try to be as diplomatic as possible. Not too much small talk.”

Prince Charles also stayed at the King David and his signature is among those of many dignitaries adorning the walkway into the lobby of the hotel.