The British ambassador to Israel on Thursday defended describing Jerusalem’s Old City as being part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” in the itinerary for Prince William’s upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank.
“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,” David Quarrey said.
The royal itinerary, published last week by Kensington Palace, raised some eyebrows in Israel, as it indicates that the palace considers the Old City to be Palestinian territory occupied by the Jewish state.
According to the itinerary for the June 24-28 regional visit, William — also known as the Duke of Cambridge — will travel first to Jordan, followed by Israel on June 25-27.
On June 27, “the program will shift to its next leg – the Occupied Palestinian Territories” and on June 28 Prince William — the second-in-line to the throne — will receive a “short briefing on the history and geography of Jerusalem’s Old City from a viewing point at the Mount of Olives,” Kensington Palace said.
“There’s no political message in this,” Quarrey insisted. “The Duke is not a political figure. 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.”
The fact that the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to the Old City was billed as part of his visit to the Palestinian Authority had 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 next week.
“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 Monday.
Briefing Israeli journalists at his Ramat Gan residence, Quarrey said Thursday that William was looking forward to his arrival in Israel.
“It’s the first official visit by a senior member of the royal family. I think it’s going to be a great success,” the ambassador said. “I hope that it will be a celebration of the modern relationship, the modern partnership between the UK and Israel.”
The prince is expected to visit the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Church of John the Baptist, as well as the Western Wall, all of which are located within the Old City, according to unconfirmed reports. None of those sites was specifically listed in the royal itinerary.
“He’ll be here to see a little bit of the country and to get to meet some of the people here,” Quarrey said. “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.”
During the briefing, the ambassador did not comment on the future king’s itinerary for Jordan and the Palestinian Authorities. He also did not confirm reports that Prince William is expected to visit the Western Wall, though two sources told The Times of Israel last week that the Jewish holy site is part of the tentative schedule.
Sources in Jerusalem explained that the locations have not been publicly announced so far due to their political sensitivity, with one source saying that the Western Wall visit was being kept quiet to avoid identifying it as part of the tour of the Palestinian territories.
If William does visit the Western Wall, it would likely be billed as a “private visit,” as has been the case when other dignitaries have visited there recently. A private visit would not necessitate that William be accompanied by an official representative from the host country, thus allowing him to avoid the prickly issue of recognizing a sovereign body at the site. US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre last year was officially listed as private, as was a visit to the Western Wall by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz last week.
During his time in Israel, William will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in the capital, and also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
While in Ramallah in the West Bank he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from its Jordanian occupiers during the the 1967 Six Day War and subsequently annexed the territory. While Israel sees the city as its united capital, Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state. Much of the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.
Quarrey said Prince William is “looking forward” to his upcoming visit.
“It’s the first official visit by a senior member of the Royal family. I think it’s going to be a great success,” he said. “I hope that it will be a celebration of the modern relationship, the modern partnership between the UK and Israel.”
William is not likely to address the Balfour Declaration, with which the British government a century ago expressed support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” or other controversial aspects of the UK’s history in the region.
“The Duke is interested in the contemporary relationship and the future. There will be a certain amount of history, but it’s not the focus of the visit,” Quarrey said. “He wants to get under the skin of this country. He wants get to know the country and its people.”
Added Quarrey: “Why is the Duke coming now? The visit takes place in the context of UK-Israel relations, which are stronger, broader, deeper than they’ve ever been: our trade and investment are at record level, we have fantastic science relations, we do incredible work on technology, and we cooperate against shared security threats. The breadth and depth of our relations are unprecedented.”
Many people have quite a narrow view of Israel, he posited. “We want to tell a different story about Israel and the UK, a story that will be new and surprising for many people.”
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.