Prince William set to land in Israel for visit rife with historical symbolism

Ending 70-year-old unofficial boycott, Duke of Cambridge to visit Yad Vashem and Mount of Olives, meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prince William disembarks from a Royal Air Force plane after landing at the Marka airport in Amman, Jordan, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Britain's Prince William disembarks from a Royal Air Force plane after landing at the Marka airport in Amman, Jordan, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Britain’s Prince William is set to land in Israel early on Monday evening, ending a seven-decade-long unofficial boycott of the country by the royal family.

The Duke of Cambridge’s three-day stay —  the first-ever official visit by a member of the royal family since the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was founded in 1948 — is likely to be full of historical symbolism, though it was initially billed as a celebration of the unprecedentedly good bilateral ties between London and Jerusalem.

However, the trip is taking place under a minor cloud of controversy, as Kensington Palace’s official itinerary states that the prince’s visit to Jerusalem’s Old City — where he is likely to visit the Western Wall — will take place in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Prince William, the second-in-line to the British throne, is set to leave Jordan on a special flight on Monday afternoon and touch down at Ben Gurion International Airport at around 6:30 p.m. local time. He will be welcomed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and MK Amir Ohana, both members of the ruling Likud party.

The King David Hotel after the bombing (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The King David Hotel after the bombing (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He and his relatively small entourage will spend the night at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel — which the pre-state Zionist underground militia Irgun bombed in 1946, killing scores of British soldiers. At the time, the hotel hosted the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine.

On Tuesday, the Duke of Cambridge will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Accompanied by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, he will visit the museum, participate in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and visit the Children’s Memorial.

During the course of the visit, he is scheduled to meet with Paul Alexander and Henry Foner, two survivors of the Kindertransport, which before the outbreak of World War II helped bring thousands of Jewish children from across Europe to Britain.

Around noon, the prince will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at their official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street — named after Lord Arthur Balfour, the UK foreign secretary who in 1917 paved the way for Israel’s creation by expressing support for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The next stop will be the President’s Residence for a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, before the duke travels to the Neve Golan Stadium in Jaffa to watch — and likely participate in — a soccer match between Jewish and Arab Israeli children organized by The Equalizer and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

Britain’s Prince William (C) and Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah (R) chat with Syrian and Jordanian school children during their visit to the Jerash archaeological site, June 25, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD ABDO)

Prince William will then attend an “event in central Tel Aviv” with Mayor Ron Huldai, though organizers did not publish more information due to security concerns.

Later on Tuesday evening, the duke will speak at a reception at the Ramat Gan residence of UK Ambassador David Quarrey. Netanyahu is also set to attend.

On Wednesday morning, Prince William will attend a yet-unspecified “cultural event” in Tel Aviv, before meeting with young Israelis at the city’s Beit Ha’ir Museum.

This museum visit concludes the part of the duke’s trip billed as taking place in Israel.

At about 1:30 p.m., he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his Muqata headquarters in Ramallah, for a bilateral meeting followed by lunch.

He will then attend an event showcasing “Palestinian youth drama and musical performances, as well as have a chance to sample local cuisine and meet aspiring young footballers,” according to the prince’s schedule.

Later that evening, the duke will speak a reception at the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, attended by “a  broad range of people from across the occupied Palestinian territories,” UK Consul General in Jerusalem Philip Hall said earlier on Monday.

On Thursday morning, the prince will travel to the Mount of Olives to visit the grave of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, and was interred at the cemetery in the late 1980s.

His father, Prince Charles, visited the grave in October 2016, during his trip to Israel to attend the funeral of president Shimon Peres.

Prince Charles and Israel’s Minister of Culture Miri Regev at the state funeral of former president Shimon Peres on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, on September 30. At right is French President Francois Hollande (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Later that day, Prince William is expected to tour several religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall, though these visits have not been confirmed.

That these visits are taking place under the auspices of the UK consulate in Jerusalem, which is in charge of London’s relations with the Palestinian Authority, has garnered some criticism from Israeli officials, with Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin accusing the second-in-line to the throne of “politicizing” his visit to the region.

“United Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years and no distortion in the tour itinerary can change that reality,” Elkin said.

But Quarrey, the UK’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, on Thursday 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 during a briefing at his Ramat Gan residence.

“The duke is not a political figure,” Quarrey went on. “He’ll be here to see a little bit of the country and to get to meet some of the people here. And also to get a flavor of Israel, to see what’s happening here, some of the extraordinary successes in technology, some of the great culture here. And he really wants to get under the skin of the country.”

On Thursday, in the early afternoon, the duke will depart from Ben Gurion International Airport en route to London on a special flight.

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