British royal's itinerary avoids even implicit endorsement of Israeli occupation
Palestinians see glimmer of hope in Prince William's visit
Palestinians are hoping Prince William's Middle East trip will restore some balance to the Arab-Israeli equation after the the US government's embrace of Israeli positions at their expense.
The British royal's five-day visit, beginning in Jordan on Sunday, comes as the US prepares to announce a Middle East peace plan on terms favourable to Israel and unacceptable to the Palestinians.
Its chief architect, US President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, is already casting Palestinians in the role of rejectionists, telling Al Quds newspaper on Sunday that President Mahmoud Abbas may prove unable or unwilling to make peace.
Last month, the US infuriated the Palestinians by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - a blow to their aspirations for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Mr Trump said the move took the issue of Jerusalem off the negotiating table.
But William, making the first official visit to the Holy Land by a member of the British royal family, is far from following Washington's lead. His itinerary released by Kensington Palace, refers to East Jerusalem as being part of the "Occupied Palestinian Territories". Moreover, the prince will not be meeting any representatives of the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality, something Israel could have depicted as an endorsement of its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.
"We look in a positive way to the aspect of how the prince is treating Jerusalem, this adds to the significance of the visit," said Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian government and currently vice president of Birzeit University. "He is coming and he is making a balanced gesture vis-a-vis Jerusalem at a time when the US is taking a biased position towards the conflict and especially Jerusalem."
In Mr Khatib's view, the visit is a chance for the UK to redress past injustices it inflicted on the Palestinians such as easing Jewish immigration under the Palestine mandate that lasted until 1948 and "siding with the Zionist movement against the Palestinians".
Although the prince's role is being described by the palace as "non-political", every step he takes will be scrutinised for possible implications on where he stands regarding the more than a century-old conflict.
On Tuesday, he meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and on Wednesday with President Abbas in Ramallah. Israel will try to project itself as a vibrant, open, high-tech society, while the Palestinians will explain what it is like to live under occupation.
"We hope this visit will lead to a greater understanding of the Palestinian reality and the nature of the oppression of the occupation and the urgency of ending this extremely cruel and unjust situation," said PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who will be meeting the prince. "Basically, the aim is to reach out for greater understanding and more human, cultural and historic ties.
"We don't expect it to be political or politicised even if Israel tries to exploit it because the royal family's position has always been against the occupation and for the establishment of a just peace, and we are sure they will maintain this position."
Kensington Palace said that besides meeting Mr Abbas, the prince's programme in the occupied West Bank will include "events that focus on the issues facing refugee communities, opportunities to celebrate Palestinian culture, music and food and a chance to meet a number of young Palestinians." In Israel, his first stop will be the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. He will also meet young activists involved in promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence in Jaffa and view a demonstration of high-tech innovation in Tel Aviv.
When he is in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday, the prince will be briefed on the history and geography of the walled Old City from a vantage point on the Mount of Olives and that he will have a chance "to understand and pay respect to the religions and history of the region".
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank during the 1967 war and then annexed it in contravention of international law. With the American embassy move, it hopes international opposition to the annexation is starting to crumble. So Britain's stance now takes on heightened importance for Palestinians.
"What the royal family and the UK are doing is just acknowledging a fact of legality and of rights," Ms Ashrawi said.
But Jerusalem's deputy mayor Dov Kalmanovich was critical of the prince for not scheduling a meeting with municipality representatives or the mayor, Nir Barkat, a supporter of Jewish settlement in Arab neighbourhoods of the city.
Mr Kalmanovich, from the hard right Jewish Home party, said he was "very surprised that a personage from the royal family comes and can't find the time to meet with representatives of the municipality. Such a meeting could take place in the east or west part of the city."
"We very much like the prince but he shouldn't slip on politics and it's a shame that with these things he will cause residents of Jerusalem not to appreciate him," he said.