A senior Jordanian diplomat was among the dignitaries greeting Britain’s Prince William last week on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City against the wishes of the Israeli authorities, The Times of Israel has learned.
On June 28, the future king undertook “private visits” to various holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He also spent time at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which are located on the Temple Mount.
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which is why foreign dignitaries usually bill their visits to the Old City as “private” and are not accompanied by Israeli officials but rather by religious leaders.
On the Temple Mount, Prince William, also known as the Duke of Cambridge, was greeted by Nizar al-Qaissi, a Jordanian diplomat with the kingdom’s diplomatic mission to Ramallah.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry and police were opposed to al-Qaissi’s presence and made their position known to organizers of the prince’s visit, a well-placed source told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both the Foreign Ministry and the police declined to comment.
An official at the UK Consulate General in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel that “the Waqf invited those to attend and greet” the future king.
The Waqf, also known as the Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, administers day-to-day activity on the Temple Mount, which includes overseeing the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, archaeological sites, museums and schools. It is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government.
Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in 1980 and considers itself sovereign there. However, successive Israeli governments have recognized Jordan’s “special role” as the custodian of Muslim holy sites in the Old City and has vowed to maintain the status quo on the flashpoint Temple Mount.
The British consul-general in Jerusalem, Philip Hall, mentioned the Jordanian diplomat’s presence in an Arabic-language op-ed he published in several Palestinian news outlets after the future king had returned to London.
“Prince William began Thursday on the Mount of Olives, looking over the Old City. After the viewpoint he went to the Russian Orthodox Church of St Mary Magdalene, where prayers were sung and he paid his respects at the tombs of Princess Alice, his great grandmother, and Saint Elizabeth, also a relative. The atmosphere was serene,” Hall wrote.
“Down, then, into the Old City, to the Haram Al Sharif, where Prince William was greeted by Sheikh Azzam [Al-Khatib, the head of the Jerusalem Waqf], the Ambassador of Jordan and Waqf officials,” the senior diplomat continued.
Also present were the mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein and his predecessor Ekrima Sabri.
— UKinJerusalem???????? (@UKinJerusalem) June 28, 2018
“He admired the magnificent Dome of the Rock, and was accorded the great honour of entering from the Eastern entrance, and he then visited the Al Aqsa Mosque,” the UK envoy went on. “He could not have been made more welcome by the Waqf. He visited and prayed at the Western Wall, too, before walking to the Muristan, part of the St John Eye Hospital, where he had a short break.”
The fact that the Duke of Cambridge visit to Jerusalem’s Old City was described in his official itinerary as taking place in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and was organized by the UK’s Jerusalem Consulate General, which is responsible for London’s ties with Ramallah, as opposed to the London Embassy, had caused a minor stir ahead of his arrival in the region late last month.
“United Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years and no distortion in the tour itinerary can change that reality,” Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said at the time.
UK Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey defended the designation as consistent with longstanding British government policy.
“There’s no political message in this,” Quarrey insisted, adding that the prince is an apolitical figure.