Why does the British Royal Family visit Saudi Arabia but not Israel?
Members of the Royal family regularly visit authoritarian Arab states, but they have never made an official trip to Israel
When Prince Charles threaded through the hallways of last week’s climate change conference in Paris, he swapped ideas with world leaders on how to confront the dangers of a warming planet.
But Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, had something else on his mind. During a brief meeting, he invited the Prince of Wales to pay an official visit to Israel.
Mr Netanyahu’s offer – like dozens of others extended by Israeli leaders to the Royal family – is unlikely to be taken up.
In the 67 years since Israel was founded in territory once controlled by Britain, no member of the Royal family has ever visited in an official capacity. While Prince Charles and others have occasionally set foot in Israel, Buckingham Palace and the British Government have been at pains to stress they were personal visits and not official ones.
The rejected invitations are a source of deep frustration for Israel, especially as the Royal family has made high-profile visits to authoritarian regional neighbours like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as Charles did in February.
“We’re the only democracy in the Middle East and so you ask why do the Royals go to the Arab dictatorships around us but they don’t come here?” said one Israeli official.
The issue is sometimes raised by exasperated commentators in the Israeli media. “Is there another member state of the United Nations that the British Royals have so consistently and assiduously snubbed in this way?” asked David Landau, an Anglo-Israeli journalist.
In 1997, Ezer Weizman, then Israel’s president, paid a state visit to Britain. These visits are usually reciprocated – yet Britain has pointedly ignored this particular tradition in the case of Israel.
Dror Zeigerman, then Israel’s ambassador to London, recalled that the Queen got along well with Mr Weizman during a banquet at Buckingham Palace, recalling how the latter served in the RAF during the Second World War.
“We sat together and I remember he invited the Queen to come to Israel and she said she would be happy to come,” said Mr Zeigerman. “But that was nearly 20 years ago and there’s been no visit.”
The explanation for the absence is acutely sensitive. The Queen’s official visits are coordinated by the Government of the day and reflect foreign policy priorities, not her personal preferences.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said: “All overseas visits by members of the Royal family are undertaken on the advice of the British Government.”
Photo: Oleg Popov/Reuters
The Foreign Office declined to comment, but British officials say there are too many political landmines in the way of a visit to a country that occupies Palestinian territory and lives within disputed borders.
“Until there is a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Royal family can’t really go there,” said one Whitehall source.
“There have been inward State Visits
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