Make no mistake: Tuesday is a massive day for the Middle East, for the monarchy and, in particular, for Israel. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, second in line to the throne, will make the first official visit of the Royal family to Israel.
The duke is central to the modern House of Windsor. He has done much to ensure that our Royal family moves strongly into the middle part of the 21st century. So what he sees is important.
Back in March, I made a plea on these pages. A plea that the duke sees the real Israel, with all its vibrancy, innovation and compassion.
A plea that the duke wouldn’t be subjected to meeting after meeting in stuffy rooms.
What a relief that our duke will be spared those windowless, airless briefing rooms!
In Tel Aviv – Israel’s modern beating heart – the duke will be given a showcase of world-leading high tech start-ups. He will hear about the technologies and inventions that will shape our shared future – both in Israel and the UK.
In Jaffa, he will join Jewish and Arab Israeli children for a football kick-about with two organisations focused on coexistence between young people of different religious and ethnic communities. The Equalizer (which is sponsored by the UJIA and the British Embassy in Israel) and the Peres Center for Peace show Israel at its best.
As president of the Football Association, it is a sensible decision to include The Equalizer coexistence project in the duke’s itinerary. The image of him playing football with young children from different communities in such a divided region will surely be among the tour’s standout ones.
Importantly, the duke’s visit will also reiterate the ability of sport to bring together communities following the sad decision of the Argentina Football Association to cancel their recent friendly football game in Israel under duress from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the prince is understood to be visiting the historic and sacred sites of the Old City. He will bear witness to religious pilgrims and tourists from all corners of the world visiting this most special of cities. A city where the world comes together every single day.
In addition to meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, the prince’s visit to Yad Vashem with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will offer a poignant moment to reflect on where intolerance can lead.
A royal visit is quite unlike anything else. Modern visits strip away the pageantry and instead concentrate on the people of the country being visited. Along with the prince will come a sophisticated press corps. It is through their eyes that we will see Israel afresh. We will see the historic images, but also pictures of bustling communities working and getting on together to make a prosperous and safe place in a region of chaos and violence.
While high-profile visits of this nature can be unpredictable, there are two things of which I’m confident. First, the prince will receive the warmest of welcomes in Israel. Second, he’ll discover a thriving democracy that celebrates and cherishes the same values we proudly do in the UK.
I have another reason to look forward to next week. On Monday I start a new life as a member of the House of Lords.
But that, as they say, is another story…
- Sir Eric pickles is former chairman, Conservative friends of Israel