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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Palestinians unmoved by Prince William’s landmark Middle East visit

Officials and West Bank citizens question significance of royal’s trip to Ramallah

Britain's Prince William arrives on a Royal Air Force plane to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, June 25, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner / AP
Britain's Prince William arrives on a Royal Air Force plane to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, June 25, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner / AP

Prince William is set to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, but Palestinians say they are unmoved by the first-ever official visit by a member of Britain’s Royal Family to the tumultuous region London once ruled.

The second in line to the British throne met Israeli leaders on Tuesday before he sets off to meet with the Palestinian leader and refugees.

“To be honest, I personally have no feelings over that visit,” said a Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I find it irrelevant. I haven’t seen anything special so far,” the official continued.

Palestinians on the street also expressed indifference about the royal’s first visit to the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority is located.

“Why should people in Palestine care? This is the question,” asks Mousa, a 23-year-old from Ramallah who declines to give his last name.

“Does he give them something they do not have? If our president visited your country, would you care?” he added, explaining his coldness towards William’s visit.

On the other side of the decades-old conflict, the 36-year-old royal was feted by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

After a tour of Israel’s Holocaust memorial, the prince was greeted by Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at their official residence in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the British and the Israeli flags.

“Welcome to Israel, a great historic visit. The whole people of Israel are excited,” Mr Netanyahu told William, in a recording issued by the prime minister's office.

At a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the prince, on a visit described by Britain as non-political, said he hoped "peace in the area can be achieved". Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

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But his trip also roused the ire of several right-wing Israeli political figures, who objected to his itinerary including the term “occupied Palestinian territories” for East Jerusalem, the area of the contested city that Palestinians have earmarked as the capital of any future sovereign state.

Israeli cabinet member and Jerusalem Affairs Minister for Israel, Zeev Elkin, wrote on Facebook that the use of the term was a “distortion” that cannot “change reality”.

“It’s regrettable that Britain chose to politicize the Royal visit,” Mr Elkin also said, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Philip Hall, Britain's consul general in Jerusalem, said London was following "decades" of rulings in the United Nations that declare east Jerusalem, including the Old City, part of the occupied Palestinian territories.

"There is no change in the position."

It comes after US President Donald Trump moved Washington’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the city as Israel’s undivided capital. But the decision was rejected by the majority of the international community, which retains the consensus of a two-state solution to solve the conflict.

Britain captured Palestine from the Ottoman empire in 1917 during World War One and administered the territory under international mandate until 1948, pulling out a day before Israel declared independence.

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 was resolved.