At long last, a member of the British royal house will visit Israel in an official capacity.
The news that Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, will travel to Israel in the summer to participate in ceremonies marking Israel’s 70th anniversary is long overdue.
Better late than never.
In addition to Israel, the prince, who’s second-in-line to the British throne after his father, Prince Charles, will pay visits to the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Jordan.
According to the British embassy in Tel Aviv, William’s visit to Israel “is at the request of Her Majesty’s government and has been welcomed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities.”
It may be true that Britain requested the invitation from Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Israel has been lobbying for a royal visit for decades now. Two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly invited Prince Charles. And in recent years, President Reuven Rivlin is said to have issued several invitations to various royals, all to no avail.
According to The Telegraph, the British government declined on the grounds that such a visit could not be seriously contemplated until Israel and the Palestinians signed a formal peace treaty to end their protracted conflict.
Last year, when Israel marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration — a document that committed Britain to supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine — a planned visit by Prince Charles was cancelled “to avoid upsetting Arab nations in the region (that) regularly host (British) royals,” according to the Sun.
In the meantime, British royals, notably Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, have had no problem visiting a succession of Arab and Muslim countries over the years. In effect, they chose sides, boycotting Israel.
To be sure, royals have set foot in Israel, but only privately and unofficially.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was the first. He visited in 1994 to attend a ceremony honoring his late mother, Alice of Battenberg, who’s buried on the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem. During World War II, she saved a number of Jews.
Prince Charles was next. He attended the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in November 1995. In 2016, Prince Charles was in Israel yet again to attend the funeral of another Israeli luminary, former president Shimon Peres.
Now that Britain has announced its intention to send Prince William to Israel on a state visit, Israel can breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that the royals have belatedly ended their undeclared boycott of the Jewish state.
“This is a historic visit, the first of its kind, and he will be welcomed here with great affection,” Netanyahu said in a statement. Writing on Twitter, Rivlin gushed, “A very special guest, and a very special present for our 70th year of independence.”
Seventy years after Britain relinquished its League of Nations Mandate in Palestine, the British monarchy has finally and formally decided to come to terms with Israel’s existence.
An excellent birthday gift, to say the least.