William, Queen Elizabeth's grandson and second-in-line to the British throne, will arrive in Israel on June 25 for the first official visit to the Jewish state by a British royal.
Kensington Palace released the visit’s itinerary earlier this week, but chose to include the Duke of Cambridge's tour of the Mount of Olives in his visit to the PA.
The program “in the Occupied Palestinian Territories will begin with a short briefing on the history and geography of Jerusalem's Old City from a viewing point at the Mount of Olives,” the palace said in a statement, adding that the rest of the program for the day “will allow His Royal Highness to understand and pay respect to the religions and history of the region.”
While the palace has yet to announce which sites the prince will visit on the last day, Ynet has learned he plans to visit the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Saint John the Baptist and the Western Wall. As the tours of these sites have been scheduled in advance, it’s unclear why Kensington Palace has failed to include them on the official itinerary.
According to sources in Jerusalem, the palace intentionally avoided mentioning these sites in a bid to prevent a politicization of the visit.
‘Trying to avoid a political war’
“William’s visit to the holy sites was scheduled a long time ago,” says a knowledgeable source. “William is expected to become the king of the United Kingdom one day, and he will also serve as supreme governor of the Church of England as part of his position. So, clearly, these sites were included in the visit’s itinerary to begin with. Why isn’t the palace announcing them yet? They’re likely trying to avoid a political war over the issue of control of the holy sites.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which planned the visit’s itinerary, is afraid to include the Western Wall in Palestinian Authority leg of the visit, so they are postponing this problematic obstacle and trying to find a solution that will satisfy everyone.”
While Israel accepts Britain and the European Union’s definition of east Jerusalem as “an occupied Palestinian territory, the Old City is a completely different story and the Western Wall is considered a red line. Including the Western Wall in the PA leg of the visit is a serious move, which Israel doesn’t know how to respond to.
Officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Thursday that the full itinerary of the last day of the visit would be announced next week, but refused to say how they would define the Western Wall and in which part of the visit it would be included.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, meanwhile, appeared unfazed by the visit and by its definitions.
"I'm not chasing after it," Rabinovitch said. "As a religious Jew, I think we don't need recognition that the Western Wall is ours. It's more important to me that a Jewish boy from Britain comes and connects with this place, and in doing so becomes a part of the chain of Jewish generations. I respect the prince, but my job is to pass on the Western Wall's heritage to the future generations."