Prince William’s friendly words in Israel bring a 70-year unofficial boycott to an end

June 27, 2018

Prince William met young Israelis in Tel Aviv and learned the game of footvolley



[Note by Tom Gross]

Britain’s Prince William is on a short tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian-run territories.

His friendly speech in Tel Aviv yesterday evening effectively brought to an end the 70-year British Foreign Office-initiated (unofficial) royal boycott of Israel.

You can watch his four-minute speech here:

Or here:

(Today the prince will meet and address Palestinians in the West Bank.)



Earlier in the day, Prince William met young Israelis on one of Tel Aviv’s beaches and learned the game of footvolley (essentially beach volleyball without using one’s hands).

You may want to watch this very short clip of the Prince having a go at this increasingly popular Israeli sport here, posted on twitter by the royal correspondent for Britain’s ITV news.

And this is another volley photo from the royal twitter feed at Kensington Palace in London:



Only two (the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express) of the main British newspaper front pages today have a photo of William on their cover, both showing him at Yad Vashem yesterday morning.

Other British papers very often have photos of historic royal visits on their front pages.



I attach two pieces below, the first from Roger Boyes, the Diplomatic editor for Times of London (titled “William’s visit to Israel is a putdown for Foreign Office Arabists”).

The second is a more hostile piece about the visit by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz (“Two Princes: William and Jared Reflect America's and Britain's Growing Irrelevancy”). (Anshel Pfeffer is also one of the Israel correspondents for Boyes’ paper The Times, as well as the Israel correspondent for the Economist magazine.)



For background to the (previous) Royal/Foreign Office boycott of Israel, please see this dispatch from early March which included this clip:

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

Or here.

Tom Gross: "Queen Elizabeth II has made more than 250 official overseas visits to over 130 countries, but neither she nor any British royal has ever officially set foot in Israel until today.

“It is not as though the Queen hasn’t been 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.

“And she has warmly greeted Bashar Assad at the palace in London at a time when he was already presiding over a regime with a near record number of political prisoners and torture victims.”


I should add that many British diplomats are not hostile to Israel, and both the current British ambassador to Israel, and his predecessor (both of whom subscribe to this email list) have done a great deal of good work to repair or improve Britain’s relations with Israel, while at the same time carefully maintaining balance in their concern about Israel’s Palestinian neighbors.



William’s visit to Israel is a putdown for Foreign Office Arabists
By Roger Boyes
Diplomatic editor
Times of London
June 26, 2018

William of Arabia, aka the Duke of Cambridge, heads out to dusty Ramallah tomorrow to meet the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. It’s a remarkable encounter for the second-in-line to the throne and not just because the Palestinian is a nasty piece of work (doctoral dissertation: “The secret relationship between Nazism and Zionism”). The sheer political sensitivity of an official trip to modern Israel and to the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank is such that no member of the royal family has ever undertaken it.

A shift in geopolitics has made the visit possible — and a cultural change in the Foreign Office, which has for many decades advised the royal household that it is better to don the appropriate headgear and butter up Arab autocrats than engage with the gritty detail of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. The fear of giving offence to princelings has been the defining trait of the so-called camel corps of Britain’s Arab enthusiasts within the Foreign Office. It has, with flanking assistance from oil men and aerospace executives, become an almost institutional lobby that sees Israel as the troublemaker of the region and Arab leaders as being deeply misunderstood.

The result: a skewed view of the Middle East that has left Britain so often wrong-footed by an unexpected crisis; a war, a revolution, a putsch that others had spotted in the making. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait? Didn’t see it coming. The 2011 Arab Spring? A complete surprise.

For a long time I bought into the mystique of Britain’s Arabist expertise, and saw Israel’s concern about the camel corps simply as irrational suspicion of London’s motives dating back to the days of the Mandate. Did we not have plenty of informal contacts with Israel, a lively exchange of intelligence about its hostile neighbours, about the Soviet bloc and even about fugitive Nazis? And as for the royal family, they came often enough to Israel on private visits. Both Prince Philip and Prince Charles have been to visit the grave of Princess Alice on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, honoured for her role in hiding a Jewish family in German-occupied Athens. William too will pay tribute to his great-grandmother.

So why the fuss? Surely it was not that Britain was snubbing Israel but merely that the establishment was engaged in straightforward mercantilism, tapping oil money to keep jobs alive in Derby. Yet the camel corps is not a fata morgana. Young diplomats selected for early Arabic language training bond and follow intertwined career paths. There are 22 Arab language missions; even if the dips have to interrupt with a stint in Brussels or Washington, the Middle East pulls them back. A romantic vision of the Arab world translated until recently into a sense that Palestinians have drawn the short straw. And that Israel is gaming the West and the Americans in particular.

The Foreign Office advises the royal household on the political suitability of trips. No surprise then when in 2007 an email exchange between two courtiers was leaked amidst a discussion of a possible trip by Prince Charles to Israel. “Safe to assume there is no chance of this visit ever actually happening? Acceptance would make it hard to avoid the many ways in which Israel would want HRH to burnish its international image.”

The fear of undue Israeli influence over a fickle US president runs way back, to the foundation of a training centre in the hills above Beirut, the Middle Eastern Centre for Arabic Studies (Mecas). Originally set up in Jerusalem, it was moved to Lebanon in 1948 and its instructors were either Arabs deeply affected by the nakba, the enforced exodus of Palestinians from the new emerging state of Israel, or colonial-era British administrators in sympathy with them. Students, some of them not so long out of Oxbridge, found themselves living with simple Arab families.

It was dubbed locally the School of Spies and there were a few. Mark Allen, who was later in contention to become head of MI6 and who later still was drawn into a scandal about the treatment of interrogated suspects in Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons, studied there. He had kept a falcon while a schoolboy at Downside, went on to hunt with Bedouins and was pretty much a typical product of Mecas. Many emerged as experts not only on dialects but also tribal structures.

Even after Mecas shut down in 1978, its ethos continued. No matter that the young diplomats had spent their evenings watching Lebanese or Egyptian soap operas on flickering televisions, the deep undercurrents of Arab civilisation had to be respected, Arab grievances had to be taken seriously, even fetishised, if peace was to be achieved. It was a world view in which Israel was a disruptor of the natural order.

There’s no mistaking the anger simmering among Britain’s Arabists. Donald Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the support for Israeli settlements, the strength of the connection between Bibi Netanyahu and the president: all this turned their world upside down. The fact is the caravan has moved on. The Sunni Gulf Arabs share a common enemy with Israel: Iran. And the Palestinians are becoming a source of irritation for many Arab governments rather than a holy cause. When Israeli soldiers opened fire on Hamas-inspired protesters at the Gaza-Israel border wall last month, there was some official Arab grumbling but no serious political bust-up. The threat of Iran has become the overriding threat and Hamas receives Iranian support.

This has left Britain out of step. It sticks with European Union support for the Iran nuclear deal which, since the US withdrawal, is already dead in the water. Like the rest of the EU, it will keep its embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. These positions will have to yield to new realities. And the camel corps will have to adapt or be put out to pasture.



Analysis: Two Princes: William and Jared Reflect America's and Britain's Growing Irrelevancy
Visiting the region this week, the scions of the Houses of Windsor and Kushner reflect their respective countries' declining influence in the region
By Anshel Pfeffer
June 25, 2018

On Monday, a 36-year-old unemployed helicopter pilot whose sole role in life is to wait around until his grandmother and father are dead so he can inherit the family business will arrive in Israel on a historic visit. His arrival will coincide with the departure of another thirtysomething heir, whose main achievements in life have been losing hundreds of millions of daddy’s money in the New York real-estate market, getting in hock to shady lenders, owning a gossip rag and making a cameo appearance on "Gossip Girl."

By coincidence of birth – in William Windsor’s case, and marriage in Jared Kushner's – they are both jetting around the region on taxpayer-funded private airliners, surrounded by numerous government flunkies and meeting with leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Not that there is any reason for anyone to be jealous of either man.

Kushner is enjoying, for now, the trappings of his position as senior adviser to the president of the United States. In his not-too-distant future, though, he can look forward to having to make the bleak decision whether to rat out his father-in-law or go to jail for his multiple roles in collusion with foreign powers and influence-peddling. Either way, his period of power will be brief and followed by ignominy.

Prince William’s predicament is of the opposite nature. He is sentenced for life to be a figurehead, forbidden to speak his mind as he is shuttled by courtiers from event to event. His existence is a mind-numbing succession of thousands of handshakes and polite exchanges, while he grows old and becomes a cranky pensioner like his father, Charles, waiting for the demise that will make him king.

So why are these two princelings, one for life and the other for as long as his toxic father-in-law holds on, here? And what does their arrival say about the nations they represent?

Kushner may have had no diplomatic experience until Donald Trump won the election, but his political inclinations are known. Everything he has done in the last year and a half, along with his two partners, Ambassador David Friedman and Special Representative Jason Greenblatt, and in coordination with Netanyahu, has been geared to turning the paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its head.

Finally, the contours of the “Trump peace plan” are beginning to emerge, and it is clear that as Kushner said in his interview to Al Quds newspaper, “It will be up to the leadership and the people of both sides to determine what is an acceptable compromise in exchange for significant gains.” Or, in other words, the United States isn’t going to bother itself with borders, statehood or refugees. It will make do with setting out some vague guidelines for future negotiations, while offering separate economic incentives for the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians will have little choice but to reject a plan that doesn’t address their national aspirations, undercuts their political leadership and perpetuates the split between Gaza and the West Bank. This fits perfectly into the vision of Netanyahu, who believes in giving no concessions to the Palestinians, and wearing them down in the belief that they will one day agree to a permanent status of semi-autonomous enclaves. Effectively, it means kicking the can down the road until a new U.S. administration and new Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are prepared to deal with the core issues.

Kushner and his friends are simply helping prolong the period of suffering that both nations will have to go through until they can find a way to live at peace. His visit is just another signal of America’s abdication of its duty, as the most prosperous nation in history, to try and help the rest of the world solve its problems – a process that began under Barack Obama and has only intensified under his unworthy successor.

But at least Kushner has some agency and control over his actions. And he will one day, hopefully soon, be held accountable for some of his sins. Prince William has literally no say in his own travel plans. For 70 years since Israel’s establishment, there has not been an official visit by a senior member of the British royal family to Israel. Was that because Queen Elizabeth II and her offspring didn’t want to come? And does the prince’s visit now signal a sudden Zionist change of heart? Who knows.

We are not allowed to know where the queen and her princes actually would like to travel. They have no opinions, no politics, no real power over their lives. For 70 years, the British government and its senior civil servants believed that a royal visit to Israel would harm the United Kingdom’s interests in the Middle East, and should not take place before Israel is at peace with its neighbors. Now they think a prince’s arrival will somehow enhance the relationship and Britain’s standing.

No one asked William whether he thinks flying to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories is a good idea at this time. His views matter about as much as those of the giant pandas that the Chinese leadership sends as gifts to zoos in countries where it is trying to improve its diplomatic relations.

Just as the 70 years of royal boycott represented a misplaced sense of Britain’s importance in world affairs, so does the change in policy represented by the royal visit now. It won’t help Britain get more of a say in the diplomatic process; Kushner and Netanyahu have shut out everyone else. The petty differences over William’s tour in the Old City being described by the British government as taking place in the “occupied Palestinian Territories” are meaningless. It would have made no difference on the ground whatever the British called it. Neither will the royal visit help Britain curry favor in Jerusalem (or Washington) when its representatives arrive to negotiate trade deals after their departure from the European Union. No amount of royal goodwill is going to help Britain get preferential treatment. The British people have voted for the self-inflicted blow of Brexit and demoted their already much diminished kingdom to fourth-rate status.

With its pomp and pageantry, the royal family remains a national symbol of unity and is a useful tourist attraction. But even the embarrassingly parochial Israeli politicians who will line up for a handshake with William this week won’t be more inclined to granting Britain a place at the negotiating table, or any trade favors. Those will be doled out according to the calculations of raw power – and Britain doesn’t have much anymore. Its real influence in the region ended on February 14, 1947, when it returned the mandate for Palestine to the United Nations. Prince William is arriving 71 years too late to make a difference.


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