Rivlin asks Prince William to take ‘message of peace’ to Abbas

It’s time the Palestinians understand that Jews have returned to their ancestral homeland, president tells visiting royal, adding, ‘We have to end to the tragedy between us’

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

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday asked visiting Prince William to convey to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “a message of peace.”

Hosting the Duke of Cambridge 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.

“I know that you’re going to meet President Abbas. I would like you to send him a message of peace,” Rivlin told his royal guest.

“And tell him it is about time, it is about time that we have to find together the way to build confidence. To build confidence as a first step to bring to [an] understanding that we have to bring to an end to the tragedy between us” that has been going on for 120 years, he said, speaking in English.

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 the hope for peace in the Middle East, though his formulation was very vague, steering clear of endorsing any political position.

“I, like you, look forward to understanding lots about the region and about hoping that peace in the area can be achieved,” he said. “So I am very much looking forward to really absorbing and understanding the different issues, the different cultures, the different religions, culminating in a visit, which will be very symbolic and very interesting for me, in the Old City on Thursday which I am very much looking forward to seeing.”

Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, is scheduled to meet Abbas at his Muqata headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday. 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.

In recent days, a minor controversy has clouded the prince’s visit to the Old City, as Kensington Palace’s official itinerary billed it as taking place in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Prince William arrives for a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

During their meeting at the President’s Residence, Rivlin stressed Israel’s commitment to guarantee freedom of worship to all, but suggested that the political divisions between Israelis and Palestinians can only be overcome when the latter accept Israel as a Jewish nation-state.

“There’s only one God, and we are letting everyone worship God according to his belief,” the president said. “All the other problems have to be solved first of all with the understanding of both sides that we’re not doomed to live together. Our destiny is to live together. We are destined to live together,” he went on.

Veteran residents of Jerusalem know that Israelis and Palestinians “could live together, and we can live together,” Rivlin added. “They [the Palestinians] have to understand only that the Jewish people have returned back to their homeland.”

Earlier during their conversation, Rivlin commented on the fact that Prince William’s visit marked the first time a British royal officially visited the State of Israel.

“This land knows about history, and you’re writing a new page of history,” he said.

Rivlin recalled that he was born in 1939 “as a British subject,” and walked to school on a street named after a British king.

His family has been living in Jerusalem since a decade before the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promoted the idea of a Jewish homeland together with a “partnership with all the people who are living here,” Rivlin said.

The president noted that there was much Israel had inherited from the British from their time ruling the country, including the Israeli legal system, which is based on the British system. “We adopted most of the provisions,” he said. “The only thing we did not adopt exactly, although we wanted to adopt, was the ability to have a Premier League as you have,” he said, referring to Israel’s soccer league. “Unfortunately, we are still trying.”

Keeping to the soccer theme, the president mentioned the duke’s support for the Aston Villa team,  praised the English national squad’s impressive performance at the current World Cup in Russia and jokingly asked him to lend Israel the team’s top scorer Harry Kane.

“Israel kept many of the British customs and laws from the Mandate, but we did not manage to keep the same level of British football,” Rivlin said. “I know you are a fan of Aston Villa, and I am a fan of Liverpool, but we can still talk about that during the World Cup…”

“I was the president of the [Beitar] Jerusalem team 40 years ago,” Rivlin went on. “It was in the eyes of many Israelis much more important that the position that I am holding just now,” he quipped.

The Duke of Cambridge gave Rivlin a Liverpool jersey, signed by former team captain Steven Gerrard.

Prince William gives President Rivlin a Liverpool shirt, June 26, 2018 (Mark Neiman, GPO)

“It’s my first visit to Israel and I am obviously looking forward to getting to meet as many Israelis as possible, and understand Israeli history and Israeli culture over the next few days,” the prince told the president.

“I had a very moving tour around Yad Vashem this morning which really taught me quite a lot more than I thought I knew about the true horrors of what happened to the Jews during the war, so I very much appreciate the time everyone gave to show me around that museum,” he added.

Prince William lays a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on June 26, 2018. (Ben Kelmer)

Later on Tuesday, the prince will attend an event at the Tel Aviv beach with Mayor Ron Huldai and speak at a reception at the Ramat Gan residence of the UK’s ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey.

On Wednesday morning, Prince William will attend an as-yet-unspecified “cultural event” in Tel Aviv before meeting with young Israelis at the city’s Beit Ha’ir Museum. He is also set to meet with Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai.

The museum visit will conclude the part of the trip billed as taking place in Israel.

On Wednesday at about 1:30 p.m., he will meet Abbas for a bilateral meeting followed by lunch. Later that afternoon, William will attend various events focusing on the issues facing refugee communities, Palestinian culture and food.

On Wednesday evening, William will address a reception at the UK’s Jerusalem Consulate, where he will meet Palestinians from various walks of life.

On Thursday morning, William will receive a briefing from a viewing point at the Mount of Olives from a member of the consulate. He will then proceed to the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene to visit the grave of his great-grandmother.

The Church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian Orthodox church located on the Mount of Olives near the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, on a snowy day. February 20, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Princess Alice, who saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, was interred there in the late 1980s.

Her grandson, William’s father, Prince Charles, visited the grave in October 2016, during his trip to Israel to attend the funeral of president Shimon Peres.

Later on Thursday, William is expected to tour 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.

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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