Prince William Will Go to Israel, in First Official Visit by a British Royal

The British announcement, coming barely a week after the Trump administration said it was accelerating the opening of a United States Embassy in Jerusalem, was more good news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is mired in corruption investigations. The embassy opening is expected on May 14, to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel.

“This is a historic visit, the first of its kind, and he will be welcomed here with great affection,” Mr. Netanyahu said of the prince’s visit in a statement.

Other Israelis reacted more wryly. “It only took 70 years, but finally the British royal family has gotten over the end of the Mandate,” Amit Segal, the political affairs commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 News, wrote on Twitter. He was referring to the quarter-century of British rule over the area, known as the British Mandate for Palestine, which ended in 1948, on the eve of Israeli independence.

Prince William Will Go to Israel, in First Official Visit by a British Royal
Prince William Will Go to Israel, in First Official Visit by a British Royal

But old grievances and present-day realities mean that traveling between Israel and the Palestinian territories will likely require all the royal finesse William can muster.

Israel’s 70th anniversary also marks 70 years of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes and became refugees during the hostilities leading up to, and the war surrounding, Israel’s creation.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement, “Prince William, who accepted an invitation from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will be a welcome guest, not just of the leadership but of the Palestinian people who will provide him with the opportunity to share their stories firsthand and connect on a human level.”

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“This trip will also serve to enhance diplomatic and cultural relations between His Royal Highness and the people of Palestine,” Ms. Ashrawi added.

Israel has extended many invitations before, but all previous visits by British royals have been classified as private and unofficial.

In October 1994, the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, attended a ceremony honoring his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, for hiding Jews in her palace during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

The queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne, attended the funerals in Jerusalem of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the former prime minister and president Shimon Peres in 2016.

After Mr. Peres’s funeral, Prince Charles made a discreet visit to the grave of his grandmother Princess Alice at the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. The visit was all the more diplomatically delicate because the grave is in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 war in a move that was not internationally recognized.

A report in the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2015 said British royals were unlikely to visit Israel officially before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

Already, there was a mini-flap over the language of the announcement. Kensington Palace said on Twitter that Prince William would visit “Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” But Israel’s Haaretz newspaper noted that the Hebrew news release rendered the West Bank part of the visit as the Palestinian Authority, a term more palatable to many Israelis.

According to Haaretz, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv clarified that the translation was consistent with their terminology. That prompted Xavier Abu Eid, an adviser to the P.L.O’s Negotiations Affairs Department, to ask on Twitter, “Hey @ukinisrael, what kind of translator do you have? Or did occupation disappear from your terminology when talking to Israelis?”

Mr. Abu Eid later said the translation had been updated by the embassy. In a Facebook post, the British Embassy wrote in both English and Hebrew that the prince would visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Some critics retorted that given its colonialist past, Britain should be the last country to preach about occupation.

Follow Isabel Kershner on Twitter: @IKershner.

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