Prince William reportedly refused a request for a meeting in the capital with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
According to a Hadashot TV news report Wednesday, Barkat requested a meeting in the city with the royal visitor, who has been staying at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, was the guest of honor at a reception at the British Consulate in East Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, and will be spending much of the final day of his visit, Thursday, in the city.
However, British Embassy officials reportedly told Barkat the prince would be pleased meet the mayor at a reception held Tuesday at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan, but that the prince would not meet with him in Jerusalem.
The prince met at length in Jerusalem on Tuesday with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with President Reuven Rivlin. Apparently a meeting by the prince with the mayor in Jerusalem, however, would have implied an unacceptable degree of British recognition of Israeli rights in the city.
Britain’s position on the status of Jerusalem was underlined in the prince’s official itinerary, which describes his scheduled visit to the Old City on Thursday as part of the section of his trip in “occupied Palestinian territories.”
Barkat refused the offer and stayed away from the Tuesday night reception. He conveyed the message, the TV report said, that if they could not meet in Jerusalem, he would rather they not meet at all.
Barkat’s aides were quoted saying that the unprecedented royal visit to Israel is important and appropriate, but that Israel has only one capital, the united Jerusalem, and that he refused to meet the prince elsewhere “out of respect for Jerusalem.”
British officials were quoted as confirming that Barkat was invited to the Ramat Gan reception, as was Rivlin, Netanyahu and government ministers, among others. Netanyahu, several ministers and numerous other prominent Israelis were among the 350 guests at the event.
On Wednesday, in Ramallah, Prince William told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he was “glad our two countries work so closely together.”
That comment, referring to Palestine as a country, had the potential to cause a diplomatic incident, with Israel opposing any attempts by the Palestinians to gain recognition as a state before a permanent peace deal is signed.
But the Foreign Ministry chose not to respond to the comment Wednesday. By contrast, the TV report said, Israel did last week protest to the British about the designation of the Old City as part of the “occupied Palestinian territories.”
The international community typically refrains from referring to the Palestinian territories as a country or state, instead supporting the Palestinian demand for a sovereign state in the future under a two-state solution.
In a statement, the British foreign office did not comment directly on the Prince’s words at his meeting with Abbas but said “the UK government supports the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state — living in peace and security, side by side with Israel.” It added: “The UK will recognize a Palestinian state at a time when it can best help to bring about peace.”
UK Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey last week defended describing Jerusalem’s Old City as being part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” in the prince’s itinerary.
“All the terminology that was used in the program was consistent with years of practice by British governments. It’s consistent with British government policy,” he told reporters.
The first member of the British royal family to make an official visit to Israel since the state was founded in 1948, William told guests at Tuesday’s reception that Israel is a vibrant country that “thrives on innovation, diversity, talent and excellence,” and said ties were at an all-time high.
He also promised Britain’s support in the quest for peace between Israel and its neighbors.
“I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbors, for a just and lasting peace. The United Kingdom stands with you, as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous future,” he said at an event at the home of the British ambassador in Ramat Gan.
On Thursday, in the Old City, William is expected to visit the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque, though these visits have not been officially confirmed. He will also go to the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene to visit the grave of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice.
AFP contributed to the report