Prince William began the first official visit by a British royal to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Monday, facing the challenge of navigating deep political and religious divides in a Holy Land once ruled by Britain.
William, a 36-year-old grandson of Queen Elizabeth and second in line to the throne, will see religious sites, honor Holocaust victims and meet Jewish and Arab youths, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
A spokesman for the prince, acknowledging the “well-known” and “complex challenges” in the Middle East, said William’s tour, like other visits abroad by members of the British royal family, will be non-political.
In remarks to the Likud faction meeting on Monday before William’s arrival, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said “we will of course welcome the prince” on “a historic visit,” and he paid tribute to Princess Alice, as one of the “righteous among the nations” who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
William will stay at Yerushalayim’s King David Hotel. Once the headquarters of British authorities, it was bombed by the Irgun in 1946. The Irgun sent a warning to evacuate the building, which was not heeded.
The trip is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal visit until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
William begins the first full day of his visit, on Tuesday, at Yad Vashem. Accompanied by Britain’s chief rabbi, he will lay a wreath in its Hall of Remembrance and meet two Holocaust survivors who were given refuge in Britain as children.
The prince also meets PM Netanyahu on Tuesday and will see Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during the trip.
William’s itinerary includes visits to Tel Aviv and adjacent Jaffa, where he will meet young Jews and Arabs and view high-tech products made by Israeli start-ups.
Tom Segev, an Israeli historian, said some Israelis feel resentment over what he described as the British royal family’s boycott of Israel over the years.
“I don’t expect many Israelis to stream out on to the streets and greet the car of Prince William. He will be treated as some celebrity of course, obviously, maybe some exotic eccentric curiosity,” Segev told Reuters.