Prince William will wrap up his three-day trip to Israel and the West Bank on Thursday with a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City and visit to the grave of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg.
On Thursday morning, the prince will travel to the Mount of Olives to visit the tomb of Princess Alice, who saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, and was interred at the cemetery in the late 1980s.
Later in the 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.
The Duke of Cambridge’s stay is 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.
The trip was 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 will take place in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
According to a Hadashot TV news report on Wednesday, William also reportedly refused a request for a meeting in the capital with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
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 the final day of his visit 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.
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.
William told guests at Tuesday’s Ramat Gan 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.
He also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Tuesday, where he met with Holocaust survivors.
AFP contributed to the report