NOW that the semi-hysterical euphoria over the visit of Prince William to Israel has subsided, I want to inject some elements of reality into what actually took place.
In so doing, I need to stress that I have never met the prince, whom I nonetheless feel sure is basically a decent chap — a future king, whose job no money in the world would induce me to follow.
Am I pleased that he visited Israel? Of course, I am. Do I think his visit contributed in any way to bringing peace to the region? Of course, it didn’t.
Did his visit signal a change in British policy towards the Jewish state? Absolutely not.
Let me first of all set the constitutional scene. Modern British monarchs have a great deal of influence behind the scenes.
But in any sort of public setting, they have become automatons, saying whatever the government of the day wants them to say, and meeting (or refusing to meet) whomsoever the government instructs them to meet (or not).
The last British heir to the throne who bravely — but also foolishly — defied this convention was Edward, playboy Prince of Wales and heir to his father, George V. During the Abdication Crisis in 1936, Edward showed himself to be the coward that he had become, bowing meekly to the diktats of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
But it wasn’t always thus. A decade earlier, following the collapse of the General Strike, Edward had ostentatiously contributed £10 to the Miners’ Relief Fund, declaring publicly that “it would be an unsatisfactory end to any dispute that one side should have to give in on account of the sufferings if their dependants”.
Baldwin — also prime minister then — never forgot or forgave Edward’s public opposition to his determination to starve the miners into surrender.
Does this piece of history have a place in the education of modern British heirs to the throne? I would like to think that it does.
At all events, Prince William’s visit to Israel last month was a carefully-choreographed royal occasion with a purpose. That purpose — following so soon after American president Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and to refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — was to signal to the Muslim world that whatever was happening in the White House, British policy had not changed at all.
That was the underlying purpose of the royal visit, and it was in the service of that purpose that William undertook it.
The scene was set by the official Kensington Palace announcement of the programme. The prince would indeed travel to Jerusalem. But the itinerary made it clear that this part of his excursion would be undertaken within a visit to the Palestinian Authority — the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” as the announcement put it.
So far as the prince and the British government were concerned, therefore, his visits to the Temple Mount, to the grave of his great-grandmother, and to the Kotel all took place within the confines of “occupied” Palestinian lands.
The prince, we were assured, would be briefed on history of Jerusalem, but by a member of the British consulate in East Jerusalem, which happens to be the official diplomatic office of the United Kingdom to the Palestinian Authority.
During his visit to Jerusalem, one would have expected the prince to meet the mayor of that city. In fact, such a
meeting was categorically vetoed by the British government.
They told the mayor, Nir Barkat, that he could meet the prince — but only at the Ramat Gan residence of the British ambassador, an insulting suggestion that Barkat rightly refused.
But when the prince visited the Al-Aqsa mosque, he was apparently treated to a so-called history lesson by Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, who is reported on the Arabic website arabi.21.com as having declared as follows:
“Jerusalem belongs to Muslims and Christians, a Palestinian city occupied by the Israeli occupation that is trying to Judaise it, and the Al-Aqsa mosque belongs to Muslims alone and has nothing to do with the Jews.”
According to the website, the prince replied that “Britain's foreign policy still considered the city of Jerusalem occupied, and did not agree to the American decision on the occupied city of Jerusalem, when US President Donald Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as ‘the capital of Israel’.”
Of course, if this report is inaccurate, the Foreign Office will no doubt lose no further time in denouncing it.
But I don’t think they will. Do you?