Prepare for a week full of talk about the “historic visit,” of images from the royal kingdom of escapism and heart-warming pictures of heart-warming events devoid of any diplomatic significance other than the symbolic, which boils down to what was said in the opening clause of this sentence: It is indeed a historic visit.
For years, the royal family’s refusal to send any representative on an official visit to Israel weighed on British-Israeli relations. Crown Prince Charles attended the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but those weren’t official visits. The palace’s long-standing policy, which was dictated by Britain’s Foreign Office, had until now been to refrain from official visits to Israel as long as no significant progress had been made toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Therefore, the decision to send Charles’ son Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary is seen in Jerusalem as a significant achievement – not only because it’s evidence of the improving relationship with 10 Downing Street, but primarily because it’s additional proof of the main thesis espoused by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years: No “diplomatic tsunami” of isolation will result from the absence of a peace process. The world will embrace us even if the occupation and the lack of talks continue forever.
Netanyahu broadcasts this message consistently. After saving Israel from the Iranian threat and liberalizing the Israeli economy, improving the country’s foreign relations is apparently the third most important issue in his legacy.
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In his briefings, he frequently downplays those portions of his diplomatic conversations devoted to the Palestinian issue. This approach is more sophisticated than the way a younger Netanyahu's team once told journalists that during his meeting with former French President Jacques Chirac, the latter “mainly listened” (which later turned out to be the exact opposite of the French readout). But it’s the same idea. He pushes the Palestinian issue to the sidelines in describing these meetings, even if it really occupied center stage.
In some ways, Netanyahu is right. It’s a fact that Israel’s relations with many countries have improved, especially in the fields of commerce and defense. And Britain is one of them: Bilateral economic ties have expanded in recent years while defense cooperation has become more overt. Even with that most slandered of organizations, the European Union, when you look beyond the slogans, cooperation has actually deepened.
One reason diplomats cite for the improved relationship with Britain is its planned exit from the EU. But there has also been a shift in the focus of global attention in the Middle East in recent years, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the influence of regional instability on global terrorism and migration waves. And the rise of conservative leaders worldwide – first and foremost, of course, Donald Trump – is an equally important factor.
Many ministers say they are outrage that William’s visit to Israel will also include a visit to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which, according to the palace’s official statements, include East Jerusalem. These crocodile cries are laughable. Anyone even slightly conversant with diplomatic terminology in Britain would know this is what the territories have always been called. So what did these ministers think the palace would call them, Judea and Samaria?
But from Netanyahu’s perspective, which is realist to the point of cynicism, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. Perhaps it’s even a plus: After all, the territories are occupied, but the royal carriage is still coming. Just like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains Netanyahu’s good friend even when he lays a wreath on Yasser Arafat’s grave.
The only problem is that when all the celebrations over this further crack in the theory of isolation are over, and all the glam has flown back to its palace, Israel will still remain with the occupied territories. Whether we want it to or not, the world won’t solve this problem for us anytime soon.
Certainly not this prince without a horse.