LONDON/JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Prince William will be the first senior British royal to make an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as part of a tour announced on Thursday (March 1) by Kensington Palace which will also take in Jordan.
The visit this summer by the second in line to the throne “is at the request of Her Majesty’s government and has been welcomed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities”, the palace said in a statement.
There have been no previous official visits by members of the British royal family to the Palestinian Territories.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas welcomed this summer’s “important” visit.
“We look forward to contributing to strengthening the bonds of friendship between the two peoples,” a statement from the Palestinian presidency on official news agency WAFA said.
William will be the first close relation of Queen Elizabeth II to make an official visit to Israel, following trips made previously by the monarch’s cousins the Duke of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester.
Other foreign trips made by royals, such as attendance at funerals or weddings, are not made at the request of Britain’s Foreign Office and are therefore not classed as official visits.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the British royal’s trip would be “a historic visit” to his country.
Jordan has received British royals multiple times, including a state visit by the queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh in 1984.
Britain’s junior foreign minister Alistair Burt said the tour was an “important and unique opportunity to promote diplomatic and cultural ties in the region”.
Royal expert Robert Jobson said a high-profile visit to Israel had not been arranged before as it is like a “hot potato”, hard to handle and politically sensitive.
The announcement came amid an ongoing crisis over the status of Jerusalem, after US President Donald Trump controversially declared the disputed city the capital of Israel.
The invitation to the royals was extended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to British foreign minister Boris Johnson, during a working visit to Jerusalem in March 2017.
Later in the year in London the two countries’ leaders celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which played a key role in the creation of the state of Israel.
Written by Britain’s then foreign minister, the declaration announced the UK’s backing for the establishment within Palestine, then a region of the Ottoman Empire, of “a national home for the Jewish people”.
It shocked the Arab world and has always been condemned by the Palestinians, who held rallies to protest the anniversary.
If William is able to sidestep such controversy, Jobson suggested the royal tour could be a welcome distraction for Britons in the uncertain climate surrounding their country’s departure from the EU.
“There are clearly lots of diversionary tactics around... and of course this is a pretty big story which deflects from other things going on,” he said.
William and his wife Kate have boosted the popularity of British royals in recent years, helped by young Prince George and his sister Princess Charlotte, and the couple are expecting their third child in April.