On June 25th, Prince William touched down at Ben Gurion Airport where he would be beginning what is the royal family’s first ever official visit to Israel. In her 65 years on the throne, the Queen has never visited Israel, despite having taken 265 state trips and having visited 116 countries. It’s not as if she’s unfamiliar with the area, having been to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Iran, Bahrain and numerous other Middle Eastern countries during the course of her reign.
So it is now up to Prince William to take on the royal family’s historic shunning of the state of Israel. Highlighting this fact is difficult and is fraught with the possible implications of a hidden agenda and trying to pin accusations of ignorance and prejudice onto the royals.
It is incredible to think this the first official royal visit to Israel. In 1994, Prince Philip attended a ceremony in Jerusalem honouring his late mother and Prince Charles made a visit to attend the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1997 and in 2016, to visit the grave of his grandmother. However, the Palace stressed that such visits were of a private nature and were not undertaken with the purpose of representing the Crown.
Excuses and explanations for such a cold-shoulder approach have been few and far between. Most cite the political landmine that is Israel and how so much of the politics is tied up with the land itself. There is the matter of having to appease both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. It would also be unfair not to consider that the royals’ state visits are rarely of personal preference but reflect the foreign policy priorities of the current government of the time.
It is without doubt that Israel is perhaps unrivalled in its political complexities and sensitivities, which havealready been highlighted in the reference to Jerusalem’s Old City as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ in Prince William’s itinerary. As a strictly non-political institution, it’s obviouswhy the royals would be apprehensive about visiting such a politically volatile and turbulent country. With that being said, as the lone democracy in the area, it seems inexcusable that for the past 65 years, the dozens of invitations from Israeli leaders have been ignoredand visits by Israeli leaders to the UK have failed to be reciprocated.
There is a way of visiting Israel and not upsetting its delicate and fragile situation. No one expects the royal family to have or express a political opinion or to make the trip an overtly political one. However, by not visiting, there is an element of de-legitimisation that is unavoidable, especially when considering that the Queen seems to have no problem visiting dictatorships and entertaining absolutist rulers.
No matter the reasons, it is unsettling that this is the first official visit. While a visit by the royals does not rival that of a prime minister or an actual political leader in importance, a royal visit is highly symbolic and signals that Israel is a country that deserves to be thought of as a potential destination for a state visit and for that not having been the case is disconcerting and discouraging. Hopefully, the younger royals, and this visit by Prince William, will show a change of pace and a move away from the previous eschewing and shunning that has dictated the royals’ historic attitude towards Israel.