I’ve written many times about the British royal family’s remarkable record of refusing to make an official visit to Israel while making scores of visits to Arab capitals. That will change in a matter of days when Prince William visits Jordan, Israel, and the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
It has long been assumed that the royals themselves were not refusing to visit, but were (as is constitutionally required in the U.K.) following the advice of Her Majesty’s Government—in this case the Foreign Office. While we do not know what led to the current change of policy that permits a royal visit, it may well be the warming relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. It simply cannot be argued these days that a royal visit to Israel will harm Britain in any way.
But leave it to the Foreign Office to try to stir ill will over the visit. Here is what the Jewish Chronicle in London reports:
The Duke of Cambridge will arrive in the evening on June 25, after visiting Jordan.
His first engagement, on the morning of June 26, will see him visit Yad Vashem – Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Accompanied by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the prince will receive a short tour of the museum and meet with a survivor of the Holocaust and the Kindertransport.
He will also lay a wreath in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance.
After that, the prince will meet Mr Netanyahu and Mr Rivlin at their respective residences....planned stops include the Mount of Olives, where the prince’s great grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is buried.
The itinerary says this will take place as part of the prince’s trip to the “Occupied Palestinian territories.”
It gets worse.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth reported that
When asked to comment by Yedioth Ahronoth on the decision to place the prince’s visit to the Old City of Jerusalem under the rubric of his visit to the Palestinian Authority, a British Foreign Office spokesperson said: “East Jerusalem is not Israeli territory.”
As former holders of the Palestinian Mandate, the British above all others should know that the Old City of Jerusalem was never “Palestinian territory.” It was Jordanian territory until 1967, and has never been under Palestinian sovereignty for one single day. The British might have said the Prince was visiting “Jerusalem” without saying more. To call a visit to the Old City instead a visit to “Occupied Palestinian territory” is deeply and probably intentionally offensive—and plain wrong. It is in fact one thing to say that the UK does not regard East Jerusalem as settled Israeli territory and that its fate will be decided in peace negotiations, and quite another to call it “Occupied Palestinian territory.”
This episode has made me agree entirely with David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, that the United States should stop using the term “occupied territory” to describe any part of Jerusalem or the West Bank. Call it “disputed territory,” which it certainly is, or just say “East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of an eventual Palestinian state.” Legally, it is hard to see how land that was once Ottoman, then governed by Britain under a League of Nations mandate, then Jordanian, can be “Occupied Palestinian territory” anyway.
The visit by Prince William has been damaged by the Foreign Office, but it is still a step forward after 70 years of refusals to make an official visit at all. One hopes that during the Prince’s visit to Israel, someone—perhaps the Chief Rabbi—will tell him what was the fate of East Jerusalem before Israel conquered it in 1967: no access at all for Jews, no protection for Jewish holy sites, vast destruction of Jewish holy and historical locations. The Prince will visit the Mount of Olives. Perhaps he might be told what occurred during the Jordanian period, as described by the Jewish Virtual Library:
All but one of the thirty five synagogues within the Old City were destroyed; those not completely devastated had been used as hen houses and stables filled with dung-heaps, garbage and carcasses. The revered Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives was in complete disarray with tens of thousands of tombstones broken into pieces to be used as building materials and large areas of the cemetery leveled to provide a short-cut to a new hotel. Hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of holy books had been plundered and burned to ashes.
Somehow I doubt the Foreign Office will apprise the Prince of that bit of background about “Occupied Palestinian territory.”