|The prince and the president Photo: Amos Ben Gershom |
We must never forget the Holocaust – the murder of 6 million men, women and children, simply because they were Jewish. We all have a responsibility to remember and to teach future generations about the horrors of the past so that they can never reoccur. May the millions of Jewish people remembered by Yad Vashem never be forgotten“
That's what Prince William has written during his visit to Yad Vashem. In this video he meets descendents of Jews saved by Princess Alice: report here
For President Rivlin's meeting with the prince see here
'William of Arabia, aka the Duke of Cambridge, heads out to dusty Ramallah tomorrow to meet the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. It’s a remarkable encounter for the second-in-line to the throne and not just because the Palestinian is a nasty piece of work (doctoral dissertation: “The secret relationship between Nazism and Zionism”). The sheer political sensitivity of an official trip to modern Israel and to the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank is such that no member of the royal family has ever undertaken it.
A shift in geopolitics has made the visit possible — and a cultural change in the Foreign Office, which has for many decades advised the royal household that it is better to don the appropriate headgear and butter up Arab autocrats than engage with the gritty detail of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. The fear of giving offence to princelings has been the defining trait of the so-called camel corps of Britain’s Arab enthusiasts within the Foreign Office. It has, with flanking assistance from oil men and aerospace executives, become an almost institutional lobby that sees Israel as the troublemaker of the region and Arab leaders as being deeply misunderstood. [Emphasis added here and below]
The result: a skewed view of the Middle East that has left Britain so often wrong-footed by an unexpected crisis; a war, a revolution, a putsch that others had spotted in the making. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait? Didn’t see it coming. The 2011 Arab Spring? A complete surprise.
For a long time I bought into the mystique of Britain’s Arabist expertise, and saw Israel’s concern about the camel corps simply as irrational suspicion of London’s motives dating back to the days of the Mandate. Did we not have plenty of informal contacts with Israel, a lively exchange of intelligence about its hostile neighbours, about the Soviet bloc and even about fugitive Nazis? And as for the royal family, they came often enough to Israel on private visits. Both Prince Philip and Prince Charles have been to visit the grave of Princess Alice on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, honoured for her role in hiding a Jewish family in German-occupied Athens. William too will pay tribute to his great-grandmother.'Thus wrote The Times of London's diplomatic editor Roger Boyes in that newspaper's 26 June issue.
'So why the fuss? Surely it was not that Britain was snubbing Israel but merely that the establishment was engaged in straightforward mercantilism, tapping oil money to keep jobs alive in Derby. Yet the camel corps is not a fata morgana. Young diplomats selected for early Arabic language training bond and follow intertwined career paths. There are 22 Arab language missions; even if the dips have to interrupt with a stint in Brussels or Washington, the Middle East pulls them back. A romantic vision of the Arab world translated until recently into a sense that Palestinians have drawn the short straw. And that Israel is gaming the West and the Americans in particular.
The Foreign Office advises the royal household on the political suitability of trips. No surprise then when in 2007 an email exchange between two courtiers was leaked amidst a discussion of a possible trip by Prince Charles to Israel. “Safe to assume there is no chance of this visit ever actually happening? Acceptance would make it hard to avoid the many ways in which Israel would want HRH to burnish its international image.”
The fear of undue Israeli influence over a fickle US president runs way back, to the foundation of a training centre in the hills above Beirut, the Middle Eastern Centre for Arabic Studies (Mecas). Originally set up in Jerusalem, it was moved to Lebanon in 1948 and its instructors were either Arabs deeply affected by the nakba, the enforced exodus of Palestinians from the new emerging state of Israel, or colonial-era British administrators in sympathy with them. Students, some of them not so long out of Oxbridge, found themselves living with simple Arab families.
It was dubbed locally the School of Spies and there were a few. Mark Allen, who was later in contention to become head of MI6 and who later still was drawn into a scandal about the treatment of interrogated suspects in Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons, studied there. He had kept a falcon while a schoolboy at Downside, went on to hunt with Bedouins and was pretty much a typical product of Mecas. Many emerged as experts not only on dialects but also tribal structures.
Even after Mecas shut down in 1978, its ethos continued. No matter that the young diplomats had spent their evenings watching Lebanese or Egyptian soap operas on flickering televisions, the deep undercurrents of Arab civilisation had to be respected, Arab grievances had to be taken seriously, even fetishised, if peace was to be achieved. It was a world view in which Israel was a disruptor of the natural order.
There’s no mistaking the anger simmering among Britain’s Arabists. Donald Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the support for Israeli settlements, the strength of the connection between Bibi Netanyahu and the president: all this turned their world upside down. The fact is the caravan has moved on. The Sunni Gulf Arabs share a common enemy with Israel: Iran. And the Palestinians are becoming a source of irritation for many Arab governments rather than a holy cause. When Israeli soldiers opened fire on Hamas-inspired protesters at the Gaza-Israel border wall last month, there was some official Arab grumbling but no serious political bust-up. The threat of Iran has become the overriding threat and Hamas receives Iranian support.
This has left Britain out of step. It sticks with European Union support for the Iran nuclear deal which, since the US withdrawal, is already dead in the water. Like the rest of the EU, it will keep its embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. These positions will have to yield to new realities. And the camel corps will have to adapt or be put out to pasture.'