In Jerusalem, Prince William assures Palestinians ‘you have not been forgotten’
LONDON — Britain’s Prince William visited the super-sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Thursday as he wrapped up a landmark Middle East tour during which he has tiptoed through the region’s diplomatic minefield.
British officials said it was the first time a member of the royal family had ever visited the compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock.
The second-in-line to the British throne also visited the adjacent Western Wall, the holiest place for Jews to pray.
In a speech in Jerusalem a day earlier, he assured Palestinians that they have not been forgotten.
“My message tonight is that you have not been forgotten, it has been a very powerful experience to meet you and other Palestinians in the West Bank and to hear your stories,” the prince said in a speech at a garden party at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem.
“I hope that through my being here and understanding the challenges you face, the links of friendship and mutual respect between the Palestinian and British people can grow stronger.”
Prince William wandered through the compound that is the third holiest for Muslims, accompanied by a large Israeli security detail and members of the Jordanian-run religious trust that administers it.
On Wednesday, William found himself on diplomatic thin ice with Israeli hardliners during a visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank when he called the Palestinian territories a “country”.
“I am very glad that our two countries work so closely together and have had success stories with education and relief work in the past,” he told Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
Prior to Prince William’s arrival, Israeli politicians were angered that the royal itinerary mentioned the Old City of Jerusalem as being part of “the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” rather than part of Israel’s capital. Israel occupied Arab east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967, a move rejected by the international community.
The second Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000 and a new wave of deadly violence that broke out last year had their roots in Palestinian fears for the longstanding status quo at the Jerusalem compound.
The right-wing Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the prince met in Jerusalem on Tuesday, rejects Palestinian statehood and supports Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. All Jewish settlements are illegal under international law because they are built on occupied territories.
On Thursday, William also laid flowers on the grave of his great-grandmother Alice, who is buried at the Church of St Magdalene in the city.
Princess Alice was honoured as among the “Righteous among the Nations” by Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in 1993 for sheltering Jews in Greece from the Nazis during World War II.
“I am honoured that my own great-grandmother is one of these Righteous among the Nations,” William wrote in the visitors’ book.
The trip has been carefully orchestrated as a non-political event.
Crowds of onlookers followed his every move as the prince made his way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre shortly after.
Britain has deep roots in the region, having governed Palestine from 1920 to 1948 under a League of Nations mandate. But it has since taken a back seat to the United States in matters of mediating war and peace efforts.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and the divide between the two sides has widened.
(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)