In an apparent diplomatic slip, Britain’s Prince William designated the Palestinian Authority territories a “country” Wednesday, as he sat down for talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“I’m very glad our two countries work so closely together and have had success stories with education and relief work in the past, so, long may that continue,” the royal told Abbas soon after his honor-guard welcome to the city.
“My sentiments are the same as yours in hoping that there is a lasting peace in the region,” said the prince, who is making the first official visit by a British royal to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“The Palestinian side is committed to the peace process with the Israelis, so both states could live peacefully together within the borders of 1967,” Abbas responded.
William’s comment, specifically 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 accord in signed.
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.
And while Palestine has observer status at the United Nations, it is not an officially recognized member state.
But it appeared that Israel was willing to grant the royal visitor some grace, with the Foreign Ministry declining to comment on his use of the term “country.”
In a statement, the British foreign office did not comment directly on the Prince’s words 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.”
“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 the description of Jerusalem’s Old City in the prince’s itinerary as being part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
“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 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.”
The Duke of Cambridge, the second in line to the British throne, was expected later Wednesday to meet with Palestinian young people, and to participate in events celebrating Palestinian culture, music and food.
On Wednesday morning he met with Israeli youth and took a stroll down Tel Aviv’s famed Rothschild Boulevard with Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.
On Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin asked William to convey to Abbas “a message of peace.”
Hosting the duke in his official Jerusalem residence, Rivlin said the Palestinians need to accept that Jews have returned to their ancestral homeland and that it was about time Israelis and Palestinians end their conflict.
Prince William — the first member of the British royal family to make an official visit to Israel since the state was founded in 1948 — also expressed hope for peace in the Middle East.
On Tuesday evening, the royal hailed Israel as 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, the duke is to tour Jerusalem’s Old City, where he 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