The Queen embraced Assad, but now Israel finally gets an official royal visit

March 02, 2018

Queen Elizabeth II greeting Syria’s President Assad and his wife at a time when Assad was already known to be killing and torturing a large numbers of his citizens, as well as sponsoring terrorism and suicide bombing elsewhere



[Note by Tom Gross]

It was announced yesterday by Kensington Palace, that Britain’s Prince William will travel to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority this summer.

This will mark the first-ever official visit by a member of the British royal family in Israel’s 70-year history.

Here is a TV interview with me about this from yesterday.


As I point out in the interview, and as was originally mentioned in a dispatch on this Middle East email list in 2009, in the first 57 years of her now 68 year reign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 countries, democracies and dictatorship alike. But the British foreign office, such was their historic hostility to the Jewish state, refused to let the Queen or any other British royal officially visited Israel.

It is not as though she wasn’t in the region: The Queen has visited Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey.

Prince Charles has visited Saudi Arabia 12 times, Qatar 7 times, the United Arab Emirates 5 times, Bahrain 4 times. And he also visited Afghanistan, Iraq and many other countries.

British historian Andrew Roberts noted the prejudice on this dispatch list in 2009, and he reiterated his point today:

“The Foreign Office ban on Royal visits to Israel was all the more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged, like so much ‘club’ or ‘social’ anti-Semitism in Britain. As an act of delegitimisation of Israel, this effective boycott was quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott. Now it is over, and hopefully there will be many such visits, including of Prince Charles and he Duchess of Cornwall.”

Not only were the Israeli Right perturbed by this 70-year snub of the Jewish state, but so were the Israeli left.

I attach two pieces below from Haaretz and one from today’s New York Times in connection with Prince William’s forthcoming visit Israel.

-- Tom Gross


* Among previous dispatches on royal links with Arab dictators, please see this dispatch about Prince William’s wedding:

As Syria slaughters hundreds, its ambassador gets a wedding invite denied to Blair and Brown



First Royal Visit to Israel Is Sign of Britain’s Diminished Status in the World
Analysis By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz (front page story today)
March 2, 2018

The Brits are hoping the road to improved relations with Trump and Putin runs through Jerusalem and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

In 2007, Clive Alderton, the deputy principal secretary to Prince Charles, emailed his boss, Sir Michael Peat, complaining: “I’m being pursued by the [Israeli] Ambassador; no doubt you are too.”

Just like every Israeli ambassador to the Court of St. James’s before him, Zvi Heifetz had issued invitations to members of Britain’s royal family to visit Israel.

“Safe to assume there is no chance of this visit ever actually happening?” Alderton asked, wanting to make sure standing policy hadn’t changed. “Acceptance would make it hard to avoid the many ways in which Israel would want HRH [His Royal Highness] to help burnish its international image.”

What a difference 11 years makes. At the time, Ehud Olmert was Israel’s prime minister and he was deep in negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on a comprehensive peace agreement. Nevertheless, the policy of Britain’s government remained that an official visit by a senior member of the royal family would take place only after any such agreement had been reached.

Fast-forward to 2018. Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister, the diplomatic process with the Palestinians has been stagnant for years and never seemed more bogged down in intractable mud. Yet on Thursday morning, Kensington Palace announced that the second-in-line to the throne, Prince William, will be visiting Israel (as well as the Palestinian territories and Jordan) this summer. And you can bet that Netanyahu will be doing everything to use the visit to burnish Israel’s (and his) international image. Assuming he’s still in office, of course.

So what’s changed? A number of things – nearly all of them on the British side.

For a start, the United Kingdom – on what seems an irreversible course to leave the European Union following its Brexit vote – is trying to carve out a new niche for itself in international diplomacy.

With diminished clout on the world stage, it must utilize whatever assets it has. And the one unique thing Britain has is a young generation of royals who are instantly recognizable across the globe.

The relationship between Israel and the United Kingdom is currently slanted in Israel’s favor. Britain relies on Israel for intelligence on terror threats emanating from the Middle East much more than Israel needs the U.K.’s assistance.

Britain purchases Israeli high-tech and advanced weapons on a far larger scale than Israel buys similar “Made in Britain” products. And, no less crucial for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu enjoys a far stronger personal relationship with both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin than she does. But Britain still has princes.

The end of the unofficial royal boycott of Israel (Prince Charles visited Israel in “a private capacity” to attend the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres; and his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited his mother’s grave on Mount Zion, likewise privately), allied with the imminent arrival of a “senior royal” on an official visit, is also a sign of shifting power in Whitehall.

The power of the Foreign Office’s professional diplomats, who routinely vetoed any notion of a royal visit to Israel in the past, is on the wane. The Conservative politicians in government are no longer heeding their considered advice on Brexit and other foreign policy. Prime Minister May and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, are both instinctively pro-Israel, and hopeful that Netanyahu can help them in the upcoming negotiations in Washington on Britain’s crucial trade deal (once it no longer enjoys the EU’s umbrella).

If the price the British government has to pay for gaining some goodwill in the Trump White House is giving Netanyahu the PR coup of being the first Israeli prime minister to host a 35-year-old unemployed helicopter pilot living off generous state benefits, then so be it.



Prince William Will Go to Israel, in First Official Visit by a British Royal
By Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
March 2, 2018

JERUSALEM — Seventy years after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independence of the state of Israel and an end to the British Mandate in Palestine, Israel will for the first time host an official visit by a member of the British royal family when Prince William travels there this summer, it was announced on Thursday.

The lack of a formal visit has long been a sore point for many Israelis. Some had interpreted it as a snub — a denial of recognition of the legitimacy of Israel — or, perhaps, the result of fear of harming British business interests in Arab countries.

The British legacy in the region is fraught. Last year, when Israel and Britain marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, an assurance of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the Palestinians reacted with fury and demanded an apology from the British government. None has been forthcoming.

Prince William, who is second in line to the British throne, will visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories in the occupied West Bank. No specific date was announced. His father and grandfather have traveled to Israel, but not as part of an official royal visit.

The prince will visit at the request of the government of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, Kensington Palace, his royal residence, noted. For now the assumption is that the prince will not travel with his family. He and his wife, Kate, are expecting their third child in April.

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.

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.”

“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.



The Queen’s Royal Snub of Israel
By David Landau
Haaretz (editor in chief)

Is there another United Nations member-state that the British Royals have so consistently and assiduously snubbed in this way?

[This piece was originally published on May 29, 2012 by late Haaretz editor David Landau. It is being republished by Haaretz today amid news of the first-ever official royal visit to Israel.]

As a confirmed and life-long royalist, I rejoice in Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee.

I was especially gratified, vicariously, of course, to see that almost all the crowned heads of the world responded to the Queen’s invitation to join her recently for lunch at Windsor Castle as part of her jubilee celebrations.

I was sorry – and suitably offended – that the Spanish royals saw fit to boycott this regal and merry occasion because of some new blip in the endless old argument over Gibraltar. There must be something in the Iberian mindset that just cannot twig that places like Gibraltar and the Falkands are obviously British.

Particularly gratifying was the presence at Windsor, alongside the King of Swaziland, thePrince of Lichtenstein and the King of Tonga,of such wronged and forgotten royals as King Constantine of Greece and his blue-blooded colleagues from Romania and Bulgaria.

But perhaps most noteworthy of all, from our insular Israeli perspective, was the invitation to, and participation of, Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Yugoslavia.

Alexander’s career surely gives the term ‘pretender’ new import, in that he pretends both that the monarchy still exists and that the country itself still exists. (In fact, he is a popular figure in Belgrade where there is considerable support for a return of royalism, at least to Serbia.)

My point – again, from a trivial, Zionist angle, is that Yugoslavia, at any rate, is at peace. Permanent, eternal peace. Which was a factor, I presume, in the decision to invite their royal highnesses Alexander and Katherine to the British jamboree.

I say this because every time I’ve asked a British official why the Queen has boycotted the State of Israel for the entire six decades of her reign I get a muttered line about “when there’s permanent peace”

There has never been a Royal Visit to this country by Her Majesty, nor indeed by her consort, Prince Philip, nor by her heir, Prince Charles, nor by any member of her family, no matter how remote from the succession.

(When Mrs. Thatcher visited as prime minister, I had the chutzpa to ask her when the Queen would come. Her inimitable reply: “But I’m here”)

When the royals do come, as they sometimes have to – like when Rabin was killed or when Philip’s mother was interred in Jerusalem – Buckingham Palace and Whitehall make it pointedly clear that their visits are not Royal, nor even Official.

Is there another member-state of the United Nations that the British Royals have so consistently and assiduously snubbed in this way?

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that this is the Foreign Office’s spiteful work; that the Royals are mere puppets when deciding where to go and what to say.

But, as a confirmed royalist – and I mean that without cynicism – I’m not buying that any more. Just recently, Prince William disclosed in an interview that his grandmother told him and Kate to bin her mandarins’ draft guest-list to their wedding and draw up their own one when they complained that it was full of people they didn’t even know.

This marvelous, dedicated, 86-year-old sovereign is nobody’s puppet. If she wanted to visit the Jewish state or have one of her close family visit it, she could insist on it, and get her way.

The sad but inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that she herself is part of this nasty, petty British intrigue to deny Israel that rankling vestige of legitimation that is in their power to bestow or withhold – a royal visit.

She can and should bin these sour-smelling inhibitions and end this boycott.

And the Anglo-Jewish macherocracy, as it makes its perfectly proper diamond jubilee obeisances, should be loyally and lovingly telling her so.


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.