JERUSALEM — Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, touched down in Israel on Monday, becoming the first British royal to make an official visit to the region since the British Mandate ended in 1948.
The five-day visit is billed as ceremonial — as with most things related to the British royal family — but the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are difficult to avoid.
The prince, who is second in line to the British throne, arrived in Israel after a two-day stay in Jordan. He is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and to see some of the controversial holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. He will also visit the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg, his grandfather’s mother, who is buried in Jerusalem and who is known to have saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust.
Even before his arrival, the visit courted controversy. Israeli politicians expressed frustration that the royal itinerary listed the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City as being located in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and Palestinians decried the omission of the word “occupied” from the Hebrew translation of the schedule.
“United Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years, and no distortion in the tour itinerary can change that reality,” said Israel’s minister of Jerusalem affairs, Zeev Elkin, according to local media.
Elkin, who recently announced that he is running for Jerusalem mayor in October elections, said it was “regrettable” that Britain had “chosen to politicize the royal visit.”
In a briefing with journalists Monday, Britain’s consul general in East Jerusalem, Philip Hall, said such terminology has been used for decades, in keeping with United Nations resolutions.
Israel declared sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem in the 1980s, but most of the world has resisted recognizing its annexation of the eastern part of the city, which Palestinians hope to use as the capital of a future national state.
President Trump angered Palestinians when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the U.S. Embassy there in May. When Trump’s son-in-law and special Middle East envoy, Jared Kushner, visited the region last week, he did not meet with Palestinian officials.
“We know that this is not a time when we can celebrate progress in the Middle East peace. We believe that engagement is at least as important in challenging times as it is in good times and perhaps even more so,” said Hall. “We know that some of the politics are difficult. But this is not a political visit. We think it is a good time to focus on the many aspects of life which are nonpolitical.”
Although other members of the British royal family have traveled to Israel — most notably Prince Charles, who attended the funerals of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and, more recently, president Shimon Peres — William’s trip is the first official visit.
He will be staying at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, formerly the British administrative headquarters, where a bomb planted by a Zionist organization killed 91 people in 1946.
Included in his schedule are events featuring Israeli and Palestinian youth in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. He will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center and meet with Holocaust survivors who escaped from Nazi Germany to Britain on the Kindertransport.
Other details of the prince’s visit to Jerusalem have been withheld for security reasons.
When the prince’s trip was first announced, Alistair Burt, the British minister of state for the Middle East, said it was an “important and unique opportunity to promote diplomatic and cultural ties in the region,” British media reported.
In Jordan, William met with local students, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees. On Sunday evening, Kensington Palace tweeted photos of the prince watching England’s World Cup soccer match against Panama with Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein.