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Prince William: an FCO hostage in a minefield

It was always a racing certainty that next week’s visit to the Middle East by Prince William, featuring the first official visit to Israel by a member of Britain’s Royal Family, would prove to be a diplomatic minefield.

It now turns out, however, that rather than playing the role of minesweeper-in-chief Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has left one of its own landmines defiantly in place – and is guiding Prince William straight for it.

Prince William is to visit Jordan, Israel and the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. That much has been known for some time, as has the ostensible aim of this visit to be “apolitical” and not take sides between Israel and the Arabs. Really?

The official itinerary for the royal visitor, published a few days ago by his office at Kensington Palace (but using briefing notes that will have been provided by the FCO) says that the last leg of his visit will be to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

This deeply tendentious phrase is standard fare at the FCO. But what’s raised eyebrows is that the itinerary goes on to say, after HRH meets Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and speaks at the UK consulate in east Jerusalem,

“The next day’s programme 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. From here His Royal Highness will travel a short distance to the Church of St Mary Magdalene where he will pay his respects at the tomb of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice.”

This wording places Jerusalem’s Old City and the Mount of Olives within the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”. This goes even further than Britain’s ludicrous but customary refusal to accept that any part of Jerusalem is within Israel. Absurdly, in British diplo-speak Jerusalem has thus resided in geopolitical limbo – a city apparently situated in the middle of nowhere.

That was bad enough. But through this wording of HRH’s itinerary, Britain is implying that the Old City of Jerusalem, which houses the holiest sites in Judaism and Christianity, belongs as of right to the “Palestinians” and is illegitimately “occupied” by Israel. (That may be the inescapable logic of Britain’s position, but it normally sidesteps this most sensitive of implications). Worse still, it appears that the UK government is also saying that the Western Wall – the retaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, one of the most sacred places in Judaism – also belongs as of right to the “Palestinians”.

The Israeli website Ynet reports that, in his proposed visit to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”, Prince William plans to visit the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Saint John the Baptist and the Western Wall.

“According to sources in Jerusalem, the palace intentionally avoided mentioning these sites in a bid to prevent a politicization of the visit… 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.”

If Israel really has accepted “Britain and the European Union’s definition of east Jerusalem as ‘an occupied Palestinian territory’”, it has made itself complicit in one of the Arab world’s Big Lies. For the issue here is not just about the territorial status of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall.

There are no “occupied Palestinian territories” because there never were any Palestinian territories at all. There never was a sovereign country called Palestine, and there never were Arabs called Palestinians – until they were invented solely to destroy the Jews’ historic entitlement to the land.

For around four centuries, the lands which now constitute Israel, the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by the Ottoman empire. After the First World War they were administered by Britain under the Palestine Mandate; after the 1948 Arab war of extermination against the new State of Israel the area beyond the ceasefire lines, including east Jerusalem, was illegally occupied by Jordan (which desecrated and ripped up synagogues and ancient Jewish gravestones).

“Occupied Palestinian territories” is quite simply a lie several times over. This is spelled out with crystal clarity in a new book, Israel on Trial: How International Law is being Misused to Delegitimise the State of Israel by two international lawyers, Matthijs de Blois and Andrew Tucker and published by the Hague Initiative for International Co-operation.

The authors write that the assumption that East Jerusalem and the West Bank “belonged” to the Palestinian Arabs before Israel conquered them in its (defensive) Six-Day War of 1967 is made with no legal or factual arguments to support this claim. On the contrary, the legal evidence runs comprehensively against it.

Their analysis needs to be read in total to understand the full extent of Israel’s rights to be in these territories and retain them. But on the question of whether or not the term “occupied Palestinian territories” has any meaning in law, the answer is conclusively no.

In 1920 at San Remo, the principal allied powers conferred upon Britain the Mandate to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. When Israel was finally restored as a sovereign state in 1948 it inherited those rights to all the land under the Mandate (including Jerusalem and what is now called the West Bank). The belated proposal by the UN in 1947 to treat Jerusalem as a separate entity, a “corpus separatum” under international administration, was opposed by the Arabs who wanted to destroy Israel altogether; and so that proposal was rendered null and void.

Accordingly, the authors write, when Israel took possession of east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 “it was taking physical possession of territory that – as a matter of law – already belonged to Israel”.

And as for the international law that defines an “occupation”, they write: “The law of occupation makes no sense, and has no application, in our submission, when there is no sovereign power that is ‘ousted’ from the territory.” There was no such sovereign power to which in 1967 the West Bank and east Jerusalem belonged. So under international law there is no occupation.

The correct term with which to describe the West Bank and east Jerusalem is the “disputed territories”. If Britain really did want to be apolitical, this is the wording it would use. It chooses not to do so. It uses instead an inflammatory term which propagates a Big Lie.

This tells you everything you need to know about Britain’s (continuing) attitude to the century-old attempt by the Arab world to destroy the Jewish homeland – to which, though law, history and justice, the Jews alone are entitled.

And this is the landmine to which Prince William – an ingenue abroad – is about to be directed by his mine-sweepers to lift up and throw in Israel’s face.

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