Prince William met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today as part of a five-day Middle East tour that also saw him visit Israel’s Prime Minister and President yesterday. This is the first visit of a member of the British Royal Family to Palestine on a government visit.
After the visit with Israeli PM Netanyahu and president Rivlin, William was asked to convey a ‘message of peace’ to the Palestinian leader, encouraging the PA to take the ‘first steps’ to ‘end the tragedy between them’. This message of ‘peace’ was conveyed to William yesterday, against a backdrop of everyday violation of international law and human rights abuses. As the leaders spoke, Israeli unmanned aircraft fired two missiles at Gaza, 103 Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley were ordered to leave their houses for military training exercises, and the IOF demolished a Palestinian home north of Jerusalem.
During his meeting with Netanyahu, Associated Press’s (AP) chief television producer, Nebi Qena, who was due to be reporting on the meeting, was denied entry to the office and questioned, supposedly because of his Albanian Muslim heritage as reported several media outlets.
UK politicians, especially the Conservative party, who called for the tour, have stressed the ‘non-political’ nature of this visit. However, critics say that there is no escaping the political significance of a visit by a representative of a state so complicit in the creation of Israel and the large scale suffering of the Palestinians since.
Whether it was the 1916 Sykes-Picot Treaty, which divided Arab land between rival imperial powers, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised the land already lived in by Palestinians to the Zionist movement, or continuing support for or silence on Israel’s ethnic cleansing, war crimes and violation of international law since 1948, Britain and its representatives have had an enormous complicity. To suggest that a visit by a representative could be ‘apolitical’ would take a case of historical amnesia.
Many see the visit as a bolster to Israel’s legitimacy, and the Prince’s refusal to speak out on the suffering of the Palestinians as complicity in Israeli oppression. After the massacre in Gaza that saw 129 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces since March 30 of this year, many, including UK MPs, called for his visit to be cancelled or postponed.
Caroline Lucas MP, the co-leader of the UK Green Party said in an interview with Middle East Eye, “If the prince does not speak out on his visit then Britain will be seen by many in Gaza and beyond as being silent in the face of oppression. If Prince William cannot speak out on his visit, then it should be cancelled and a government minister should be sent instead.”
No visit to Gaza is to be included, a fact challenged by former Palestinian Minister of Health in the Gaza Strip, Dr Basem Naim, who sent an open invitation to Prince William. On Facebook, he asked “Why do not you visit Gaza? Former British Prime Minister David Cameron described it as a ‘prison camp’.”
Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, a member of the arms control select committee, questioned the ‘apolitical’ nature of William’s role, saying it is “well known” that royal visits are used as trade missions for the UK’s “disreputable arms export business with nations who use them to violate international humanitarian law… The prince must make clear that he does not support arming a government that kills innocent people. He should go and tell Israel that, go to visit only Gaza or decline their invitation altogether.” The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) reports that Britain, in the last three years, has approved licenses for the sale of £327 million worth of arms to Israel.
Israeli politicians also questioned the ‘apolitical’ nature of the visit, though in quite a different way. Israeli Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin criticised Prince William for referring to ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’, saying “It’s regrettable that Britain chose to politicise the Royal visit. Unified Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years”. East Jerusalem has been classified as occupied by international law since Israel invaded it in 1967.