Free advice is usually worth pretty much what one pays for it. Still, with the announcement of Prince Williams’ forthcoming trip to Israel and the disputed territories, I feel compelled to give His Royal Highness the benefit of my insight and wisdom. So, just in case the prince is hanging on my every word, here goes.
Notwithstanding Israel’s 70-year history as an independent nation, the prince’s visit will be the first official visit by the British royal family. In that seven-decade interval, the royal family has visited Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, etc., etc., etc. Every autocracy, monarchy, or dictatorship in the Middle East has fitted into the royal family’s visiting schedule, but the one functioning democracy in the region—Israel—has not. The prince could be wondering: why now?
The prince might suspect that the UK government’s Foreign Office, which determines the royal family’s official visits, has over the decades been run by people who are quite fond of Arabs and not quite so fond of Jews. I think that suspicion would be correct, and would go a long way towards explaining the royal family’s absence.
And perhaps long-entrenched pro-Arab sentiments in the Foreign Office were nevertheless shaken by demands from the Palestinian Authority, delivered around last year’s centenary of the Balfour Declaration, that Britain “apologize” to all Palestinians for the declaration and its role in the creation of modern Israel. Whatever the reason, a new day has dawned and the prince will soon be on his way to the Holy Land.
Another question the prince might be pondering is: why me? The Queen can hardly be expected to make such an arduous journey, but there is Prince Charles, William’s father. There are also Charles’ siblings. Why has William been selected?
Here, I have an answer that I’m sure has never occurred to the prince: he was chosen because he’s the father of two very young children. Why, you ask, is that a relevant criterion? Because, I answer, the father of young children is intimately familiar with the game of “let’s pretend,” and anyone who is visiting the “Palestinian Occupied Territories” would do well to understand that childish game. I’ll explain.
In his visit to Ramallah, Prince William will be introduced to Mahmoud Abbas, who will be identified as the president of the Palestinian Authority (or, as Abbas likes to believe, as the president of the State of Palestine). In fact, Abbas is not the president of the PA. He once was the president, because in January of 2005 he was elected to a four-year term. But, if Prince William does the math, he’ll discover that, many years ago, Abbas’ term as president expired.
Of course, Abbas does not acknowledge that his term has expired; he insists on playing “let’s pretend.” So Prince William, who seems to be a perfectly polite, diplomatic kind of a prince, will be required to go along with the game and pretend that Abbas really is the president.
It gets worse. Not only is Abbas no longer the duly-elected president of the PA, he is not even a bona fide leader of the people he purports to lead. He is a “leader” who almost no one follows (except those who are part of the money-skimming gang that is indeed headed by Abbas).
How do we know that Abbas is a leader without followers? The proof is that, in the last eleven years, he has never set foot in Gaza, which is one of the “Palestinian Occupied Territories” that Abbas insists will be part of the State of Palestine. In 2007, the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, which is fundamentally opposed to any peace agreement with Israel, violently seized control of Gaza from the forces of the PA. Abbas, who prefers not to be assassinated, has stayed out ever since. So, as “president,” Abbas presides over a “state” that, in large part, is forbidden territory for him.
To cap it off, the prince will have to listen to long-winded, rambling monologues from “President” Abbas about how ardently the PA desires to reach a two-state solution with Israel and how the obstinacy and the nastiness of the Israeli government is the only obstacle to that goal. This is more of Abbas’ “let’s pretend” game, and the prince ought to be able to figure this one out for himself.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that Abbas is really sincere in his stated desire to reach a two-state solution. The truth is that, whatever his desire might be, he’s too weak and ineffectual to accomplish that end. The Hamas terrorist organization controls Gaza, and Abbas and his PA lack the strength or the will, or both, to disarm or dislodge Hamas. Abbas’ signature on a peace agreement would be another “let’s pretend” game, because he lacks the power to pacify the violent factions among the people he supposedly leads.
A “president” whose term expired more than a decade ago; a “leader” who has almost no followers; a “partner for peace” who lacks the power to enforce a peace agreement: that is Mahmoud Abbas. Prince William, are you ready to play “let’s pretend”?