On Monday, a 36-year-old unemployed helicopter pilot whose sole role in life is to wait around until his grandmother and father are dead so he can inherit the family business will arrive in Israel on a historic visit. His arrival will coincide with the departure of another thirtysomething heir, whose main achievements in life have been losing hundreds of millions of daddy’s money in the New York real-estate market, getting in hock to shady lenders, owning a gossip rag and making a cameo appearance on "Gossip Girl."
By coincidence of birth – in William Windsor’s case, and marriage in Jared Kushner's – they are both jetting around the region on taxpayer-funded private airliners, surrounded by numerous government flunkies and meeting with leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Not that there is any reason for anyone to be jealous of either man.
Kushner is enjoying, for now, the trappings of his position as senior adviser to the president of the United States. In his not-too-distant future, though, he can look forward to having to make the bleak decision whether to rat out his father-in-law or go to jail for his multiple roles in collusion with foreign powers and influence-peddling. Either way, his period of power will be brief and followed by ignominy.
Prince William’s predicament is of the opposite nature. He is sentenced for life to be a figurehead, forbidden to speak his mind as he is shuttled by courtiers from event to event. His existence is a mind-numbing succession of thousands of handshakes and polite exchanges, while he grows old and becomes a cranky pensioner like his father, Charles, waiting for the demise that will make him king.
So why are these two princelings, one for life and the other for as long as his toxic father-in-law holds on, here? And what does their arrival say about the nations they represent?
- What did the British ever do for Israel?
- Palestinians and Israelis remember life under British rule
- The British royal family’s complicated history with Nazi Germany
>> Prince William's Israel visit: Holocaust survivor rescued by Britain at age 6 on royal itinerary ■ Big trouble in little Palestine: Britain's rough three decades in the Holy Land
Kushner may have had no diplomatic experience until Donald Trump won the election, but his political inclinations are known. Everything he has done in the last year and a half, along with his two partners, Ambassador David Friedman and Special Representative Jason Greenblatt, and in coordination with Netanyahu, has been geared to turning the paradigm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its head.
Finally, the contours of the “Trump peace plan” are beginning to emerge, and it is clear that as Kushner said in his interview to Al Quds newspaper, “It will be up to the leadership and the people of both sides to determine what is an acceptable compromise in exchange for significant gains.” Or, in other words, the United States isn’t going to bother itself with borders, statehood or refugees. It will make do with setting out some vague guidelines for future negotiations, while offering separate economic incentives for the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians will have little choice but to reject a plan that doesn’t address their national aspirations, undercuts their political leadership and perpetuates the split between Gaza and the West Bank. This fits perfectly into the vision of Netanyahu, who believes in giving no concessions to the Palestinians, and wearing them down in the belief that they will one day agree to a permanent status of semi-autonomous enclaves. Effectively, it means kicking the can down the road until a new U.S. administration and new Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are prepared to deal with the core issues.
Kushner and his friends are simply helping prolong the period of suffering that both nations will have to go through until they can find a way to live at peace. His visit is just another signal of America’s abdication of its duty, as the most prosperous nation in history, to try and help the rest of the world solve its problems – a process that began under Barack Obama and has only intensified under his unworthy successor.
But at least Kushner has some agency and control over his actions. And he will one day, hopefully soon, be held accountable for some of his sins. Prince William has literally no say in his own travel plans. For 70 years since Israel’s establishment, there has not been an official visit by a senior member of the British royal family to Israel. Was that because Queen Elizabeth II and her offspring didn’t want to come? And does the prince’s visit now signal a sudden Zionist change of heart? Who knows.
We are not allowed to know where the queen and her princes actually would like to travel. They have no opinions, no politics, no real power over their lives. For 70 years, the British government and its senior civil servants believed that a royal visit to Israel would harm the United Kingdom’s interests in the Middle East, and should not take place before Israel is at peace with its neighbors. Now they think a prince’s arrival will somehow enhance the relationship and Britain’s standing.
No one asked William whether he thinks flying to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories is a good idea at this time. His views matter about as much as those of the giant pandas that the Chinese leadership sends as gifts to zoos in countries where it is trying to improve its diplomatic relations.
Just as the 70 years of royal boycott represented a misplaced sense of Britain’s importance in world affairs, so does the change in policy represented by the royal visit now. It won’t help Britain get more of a say in the diplomatic process; Kushner and Netanyahu have shut out everyone else. The petty differences over William’s tour in the Old City being described by the British government as taking place in the “occupied Palestinian Territories” are meaningless. It would have made no difference on the ground whatever the British called it. Neither will the royal visit help Britain curry favor in Jerusalem (or Washington) when its representatives arrive to negotiate trade deals after their departure from the European Union. No amount of royal goodwill is going to help Britain get preferential treatment. The British people have voted for the self-inflicted blow of Brexit and demoted their already much diminished kingdom to fourth-rate status.
With its pomp and pageantry, the royal family remains a national symbol of unity and is a useful tourist attraction. But even the embarrassingly parochial Israeli politicians who will line up for a handshake with William this week won’t be more inclined to granting Britain a place at the negotiating table, or any trade favors. Those will be doled out according to the calculations of raw power – and Britain doesn’t have much anymore. Its real influence in the region ended on February 14, 1947, when it returned the mandate for Palestine to the United Nations. Prince William is arriving 71 years too late to make a difference.