Prince William arrives in Israel for 1st official visit from Royal Family member
Royal itinerary rankles some with reference to Jerusalem in 'Occupied Palestinian Territories'
Prince William arrived in Israel on Monday for the first-ever official visit of a member of the Royal Family to the tumultuous region that London once ruled.
Arriving from neighbouring Jordan, the Duke of Cambridge landed at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport and then departed to Jerusalem, where he will stay at the elegant King David Hotel, site of the former administrative headquarters of the British mandate.
Three decades of British rule between the two world wars helped establish some of the fault lines of today's Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Britain's withdrawal in 1948 led to the eventual establishment of Israel and Jordan.
Britain has since taken a back seat to the United States in mediating peace efforts, and the Royal Family has mostly steered clear of the region's toxic politics.
For the 36-year-old William, second in line to the throne, it marks a high-profile visit that could burnish his international credentials.
Though the trip is being billed as non-political, and places a special emphasis on technology and joint Israeli-Arab projects, William will also meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and visiting landmark Jerusalem sites at the heart of the century-old conflict.
On Tuesday, he will visit Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he will meet two survivors who escaped Nazi Germany for the safety of Britain. The memorial has recognized Prince William's great-grandmother, Princess Alice, as Righteous Among the Nations for her role in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
Will meet Netanyahu, Abbas later
In a 1994 visit to Yad Vashem, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, planted a tree there in his mother's honour. Princess Alice hid three members of the Cohen family in her palace in Athens during the Nazi occupation of Greece during the Second World War. Thanks to her, the Cohen family survived and today lives in France. The princess died in 1969, and in 1988 her remains were brought to Jerusalem.
Later, the prince will meet Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before heading to coastal Tel Aviv to attend a football game of young Jewish and Arab players. He'll also meet the mayor of Tel Aviv and attend a reception the British ambassador is holding in his honour.
"It is the right moment we think for a visit to really shine a light on that relationship and show how strong the contemporary relationship is between the two countries," Ambassador David Quarrey told The Associated Press. "The duke is very clear that he wants to come and get under the skin of the country, he wants to get a feel for Israel. He wants to get a flavour of the country."
Later in the week, he'll travel to the West Bank and meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah before wrapping up the trip in East Jerusalem to visit his great-grandmother's gravesite.
The royal itinerary managed to anger Israeli politicians by mentioning Jerusalem as being part of "the Occupied Palestinian Territories." Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who is running for mayor of the city in this year's elections, called the reference a "distortion" that cannot "change reality."
Delivers royal regards to Jordan
Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and then annexed it in 1980. But its claim to this half of the city is not recognized internationally.
Israel considers the city, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, as an inseparable part of its capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their future capital.
Quarrey insisted the wording merely reflected decades of terminology used by British governments.
"It is important to emphasize that the duke is not a political figure, this is not a political visit," he said.
Prince William arrived from Jordan, where he kicked off his five-day Middle East tour by meeting young scientists, refugees and political leaders. He was hosted by Crown Prince Hussein, 23, a member of the Hashemite dynasty Britain helped install in then Transjordan almost a century ago. The pair later watched the England-Panama World Cup match together.
William was not accompanied to the region by his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. Kate gave birth to a son, Louis, in April. The couple have two other children: George, who turns five next month, and Charlotte, three.
In Jordan, the prince attended a reception marking the birthday of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, and toured the ruins of the Roman city of Jerash, a major tourist attraction his wife had visited as a child when she and her family lived in Jordan.
William paused at the spot where Kate was snapped with her father Michael and sister Pippa in the 1980s, and laughed as he inspected a giant blow-up of the photo at the Jerash archeological site.
William read a letter from his grandmother Elizabeth, who visited in 1984, saying she was delighted that 34 years later, her grandson would be able to experience the heartfelt welcome she had received in Jordan.
During a reception at the British Embassy, William said his wife had loved living in the country and "was very sorry she could not come so soon after the birth of our son Louis."
With files from Reuters