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