Britain’s Prince William, second-heir to the throne and Duke of Cambridge, has arrived on an historic first-ever official visit to Israel since the rebirth of the state and the end of the British Mandate in 1948.
The popular royal and eldest son of the late Princess Diana landed at Ben Gurion International Airport, where he was greeted by an official Israeli government delegation that included Likud Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Member Amir Ohana. He will spend the night at Jerusalem’s iconic King David Hotel, which in pre-state times hosted the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities.
Prince William’s visit, which ends a 70-year unofficial boycott of the state by the British royal family, is expected to be filled with historic symbolism in accordance with typical European cultural norms.
“We will receive today the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, for the historic first visit in Israel of a representative of the British royal family,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier in the day at the start of the Likud faction meeting. “I must say this is not exactly true because there is a representative, his great-grandmother Princess Alice, one of the Righteous of the Nations who saved Jews in Greece during the Second World War and requested to be buried in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu added with a grin that he would have invited all the Likud lawmakers to meet the prince, but, “It is a little cramped at the Prime Minister’s Residence, so we will welcome him on your behalf and on behalf of all the citizens of Israel — welcome!”
On Tuesday, the prince is scheduled to begin his day with a brief tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, where he will be introduced to Paul Alexander and Henry Foner, two Holocaust survivors whose lives were saved and who reached Britain with the “Kindertransport” that carried thousands of Jewish children away from the almost certain death that awaited their parents in Nazi areas of Europe.
Prince William is scheduled to meet with the prime minister at around noon at his official residence in Jerusalem, and will then meet with President Reuven Rivlin.
The prince then travels to the Neve Golan Stadium in the ancient seaside Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa (Yafo), where he plans to watch and perhaps participate in a football (soccer) match to be held between Jewish and Arab Israeli children at the Peres Center for Peace.
A reception honoring the prince is to be held Tuesday evening in Ramat Gan at the home of the British ambassador to Israel, and will include the prime minister.
On Wednesday morning the prince is to attend a “cultural event” in Tel Aviv and then scheduled to meet with Israeli youth at the Beit Ha’Ir museum, his final activity in Israel.
There have been reports the prince will also visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem; it appears he will make that journey as part of his tour of religious sites in the Old City on Thursday, during which he will also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. These have not, however, been confirmed and it is likely the itinerary will remain fluid depending upon the security situation at the time. They are taking place under the auspices of the British Consulate in Jerusalem which maintains ties to the Palestinian Authority.
There has been a great effort to keep the visit as free of politics as possible, according to British Ambassador to Israel David Quarry. “He’ll be here to see a little bit of the country and to get to meet some of the people here,” he 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.”
One might question that, however, given the statement from Kensington Palace announcing that Prince William planned to visit the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” No mention of Israel at all.
Israelis will finally be able to see for themselves with William’s personal appearance what his own independent views are, at last. And whether or not he really believes with the rest of the royal family that Jerusalem is “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”