Does the For­eign


IN THE 60 years of Is­rael’s ex­is­tence, only five mem­bers of Bri­tain’s royal fam­ily have vis­ited the coun­try. In con­trast, there have been many royal trips to Gulf and Arab coun­tries, the most re­cent be­ing that of Prince Charles to Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt last year with his wife, Camilla.

So last week’s JC rev­e­la­tion of a leaked email ex­change be­tween the Prince of Wales’s Prin­ci­pal Pri­vate Sec­re­tary, Sir Michael Peat, and his Deputy Pri­vate Sec­re­tary, Clive Alder­ton, say­ing there was “no chance ever” of their vis­it­ing Jerusalem, breathed new life into the long-stand­ing Jewish be­lief that an in­sti­tu­tion­ally Ara­bist For­eign Of­fice was still in place. Mr Alder­ton is on sec­ond­ment from the For­eign Of­fice to the Prince’s house­hold.

Sir Michael and Mr Alder­ton had been in­vited to visit Is­rael as guests of the Knes­set. The in­vi­ta­tion was seen as pre­par­ing the ground for a first of­fi­cial visit by the Prince of Wales.

While Sir Michael wel­comed the in­vi­ta­tion, Mr Alder­ton ob­jected, warn­ing that Is­rael could use such a visit to “bur­nish” its in­ter­na­tional im­age.

The JC’s story went round the world, and there was clear dis­com­fort both in Clarence House and the For­eign Of­fice. For­eign Sec­re­tary David Miliband, who hap­pened, by co­in­ci­dence, to be vis­it­ing Is­rael over the week­end, phoned Prince Charles shortly af­ter the story ap­peared.

He told re­porters in Tel Aviv: “I think it would be very wrong for any­one in Is­rael to have the im­pres­sion that some­how Prince Charles did not want to come here on the ba­sis of an email ex­change amongst his staff.”

For his part, Prince Charles — who at­tended a 50th Is­rael In­de­pen­dence Day ser­vice at Lon­don’s St John’s Wood Syn­a­gogue in 1998 — was keen to dampen crit­i­cism. He seized the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by his ap­pear­ance at Mon­day’s World Jewish Re­lief dinner to pro­pose the toast to the State of Is­rael, a move greeted with ap­plause.

Nev­er­the­less, crit­ics say that the Prince’s ges­tures would be much more ap­pre­ci­ated were they to be made in Is­rael. He was warmly wel­comed by Is­raelis when he at­tended Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995, and in­deed told Mr Miliband that he re­mem­bered the oc­ca­sion well.

Twenty years ago, Bri­tain’s For­eign Of­fice went as far as to en­dorse the cer­tifi­cates given by the Arab League to com­pa­nies boy­cotting Is­rael. But to­day most ex­perts agree that the For­eign Of­fice is not so much Ara­bist, but that its per­cep­tion of Bri­tish in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East could rule out a full royal visit to Is­rael.

Yossi Mekel­berg, Mid­dle East ex­pert at Chatham House, said: “Glubb Pasha is dead. The old-fash­ioned, in­stinc­tively pro-Arab camp does not ex­ist any more. The For­eign Of­fice is very pro­fes­sional and looks at Bri­tish in­ter­ests, whether those in­ter­ests are in the Arab world or in Is­rael.”

Neill Lochery, di­rec­tor of Is­rael stud­ies at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said the controversy came at a time when re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the UK were their best for many years. “One day there will be an of­fi­cial royal visit to Is­rael and it will hap­pen naturally. I don’t think the mod­ern-day For­eign Of­fice is anti-Is­rael.”

An Is­raeli diplo­mat told the JC that a royal visit to the coun­try would have eco­nomic as well as diplo­matic ben- efits. Gil Erez, min­is­ter for com­mer­cial af­fairs at the Is­raeli Em­bassy, said: “A visit by Prince Charles would bring with it new peo­ple and com­pa­nies.”

Im­ports from the UK to Is­rael for the first 10 months of 2007 stand at $2.25 bil­lion but a royal trip could gen­er­ate a lot of fur­ther busi­ness, said Mark Ross, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bri­tish Is­rael Cham­ber of Com­merce. “At the heart of any high-pro­file visit to Is­rael is the brand­ing of Is­rael as a nor­mal coun­try where busi­ness can flour­ish.”

Though a For­eign Of­fice of­fi­cial in­sisted that “there has never been a pol­icy against a royal visit to Is­rael”, Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion chair­man Andrew Bal­combe noted: “The roy­als have been to most other ma­jor coun­tries but Is­rael seems to be off the agenda. We hope that Prince Charles will come to Is­rael where he will be most wel­come and it would en­hance trade and po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments.”

For­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary Sir Mal­colm Rifkind, now MP for Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, said: “The UK has good re­la­tions with a large num­ber of coun­tries.

“There are only a small num­ber of state vis­its ev­ery year so I wouldn’t draw any fun­da­men­tal con­clu­sions about Is­rael”.


The Queen in a car­riage with Pres­i­dent Weiz­man of Is­rael on his ar­rival for a state visit in 1997

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