The organization dedicated to isolating and delegitimizing Israel by way of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has so far not reacted officially to the announcement that Britain’s Prince William is to visit Israel this summer. Since he will also be visiting Jordan and what are described in the announcement as “the Palestinian occupied territories”, and since both Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, have welcomed the news, hard-line BDS supporters do not have much of a leg to stand on. Moreover Prince William probably ranks considerably higher in the public popularity stakes than Roger Waters, Lorde or other performers closely associated with their pro-BDS views, and so the prince’s visit is likely to have a major positive effect on young people’s view of Israel across the world.
The extreme sensitivities of the situation were on display within minutes of the announcement. When the British embassy in Tel Aviv issued a Hebrew-language press release, it omitted the word “occupied” from the Kensington Palace statement. “What kind of translator do you have?” tweeted a Palestinian official, Xavier Abu Eid.
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In fact, the term “Palestinian occupied territories” is an exact reflection of the British government’s position on the vexed Israeli-Palestinian situation. Although more than 70 percent of the countries of the United Nations have, at the urging of the PA, recognized a State of Palestine, the European Union has not formally done so but has left it to individual states to act on this matter as they choose. A clutch of them have granted Palestine official recognition, but the UK government has always adopted a nuanced approach. Back in 2011 Britain was prepared to grant Palestine non-member observer status at the UN, though it refused to approve full state membership. In October 2014 a House of Commons motion called on the government to recognize Palestine as an independent state, but the government has not subsequently implemented the advice.
A fair number of contemporary issues bear on the forthcoming royal visit. In Britain all eyes are on Brexit, and the delicate, not to say precarious, state the negotiations with the EU have reached. In Prime Minister Theresa May’s keynote speech on March 2, 2018, she made it crystal clear that, after withdrawal, the UK would not enter into any formal customs union with the EU. Several considerations affected this decision, but high among them was the UK’s determination to negotiate independent trading arrangements around the world – impossible when locked into a customs union.
A recent UK government White Paper identified Israel as a trading priority for post-Brexit Britain because of the potential synergies between Israel’s high levels of innovation and British strengths in design, business growth, finance and high-technology. So Israel is a prime potential trading partner for the UK. The groundwork has already been laid, because UK-Israeli trade is flourishing since the areas in which Israel excels − especially in high-tech fields such as cyber security, Research and Development, and financial technology − are largely outside the EU-Israel agreement which currently governs the terms of trade.
A second factor is the United States’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The immediate, almost universal, wave of protest has largely died down, and it seems to have dawned − in certain quarters at least – that President Donald Trump’s announcement drew no boundaries in Jerusalem, but left wide open the possibility of an eventual separate or conjoint Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem municipality. Far from placing an additional obstacle in the path of an eventual agreement, Trump’s announcement appears to have injected a cold douche of reality into the situation. For, whatever the future may hold, there is no denying the plain fact that Jerusalem is indeed Israel’s capital. Nor has Trump’s announcement inhibited the UK from proposing a royal visit.
Thirdly, as the visit to Britain in March 2018 of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman demonstrated, the UK allies itself with the moderate Arab world that is opposing radical jihadist terror organizations intent on disrupting the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all known to be collaborating with Israel – albeit below the radar − in combatting the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Iran’s instrument in its bid for political and religious dominance of the Middle East.
Fourthly 2018 marks Israel’s 70th anniversary, and an official royal visit is a logical consequence of the recognition and celebration by the British government last November of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. PA President Abbas has welcomed Prince William’s intention to visit the Palestinian occupied territories, but at the back of his, and the prince’s, mind will doubtless be his demand in March 2017 that Britain apologises for the Balfour Declaration – a demand that was swiftly rejected by the British government.
A royal visit to the Middle East in 2018 that includes Israel in the itinerary fits neatly into that policy position, which turns its back decisively on BDS.