First official UK royal visit to Israel ‘looks set’ for this year
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First official UK royal visit to Israel ‘looks set’ for this year

Palace sources said to confirm trip being planned in Balfour centennial year, a day after President Rivlin issues formal invitation via Boris Johnson

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prince Charles attends the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)
Britain's Prince Charles attends the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

In what would be an historic first formal visit, Buckingham Palace officials say a trip to Israel by a member of the British royal family “looks set to go ahead this year,” the UK daily The Times reported Tuesday.

Whitehall sources said that a royal visit had been under discussion for some time and an invitation issued by President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday was likely to be accepted, the London-based paper said. The likelihood of such a visit was first reported by The Times of Israel in November.

“As with all invitations for official overseas travel by members of the royal family, we will act on the advice of the Foreign Office,” Buckingham Palace was quoted as saying.

While royals have visited Israel in the past, no representative of the British monarchy has ever come to country on an official “royal tour.” The planned official royal visit would thus be the first in the Jewish state’s 68-year existence, during which nearly every other country on earth has been visited by a representative of the crown.

Meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Rivlin extended an invitation to the royal family to visit during the centennial year since the 1917 signing of the Balfour Declaration.

“This is a very important year in the history of the relations between Israel and the United Kingdom,” Rivlin said. “We will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and I am greatly honored to extend an official invitation to the royal family to visit Israel to mark this event.”

President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)

A spokesman for the president told The Times of Israel that Johnson was very supportive of the idea and that Rivlin stressed the importance and significance of such a visit.

While the visit would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, issued by foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour in 1917, it is unclear whether the trip would officially mark the document’s centenary. Instead, the visit may be formally billed as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jerusalem in which General Edmund Allenby led the British Army to a victory over the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm or deny coordinating plans for the trip. A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Israel was not available for comment.

Speaking to The Times of Israel in November, a senior British Jewish community leader said the details of the visit were not yet finalized but that the trip would be led by a senior member of the royal family.

Official visits by royals to foreign countries are sanctioned by the British government. Despite numerous invitations over the years, no government has approved such a visit to Israel since the end of the British mandate and the establishment of the state in 1948.

Prince Charles’s attendance at the funeral of president Shimon Peres last year and of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 were not considered official royal visits and did not include diplomatic meetings. That is true also of a brief 1994 visit by his father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to attend a ceremony commemorating his mother, Alice of Battenberg, who is buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

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