UK's Prince William begins politically delicate Mideast trip

MICHEL GANGNE

MICHEL GANGNE

Israel was preparing Sunday for the arrival of Britain's Prince William in Israel a day later, the first visit by a British royal to Israel and Palestinian territories.

He is later scheduled to visit Fablab, an initiative by the Crown Prince Foundation to support young entrepreneurs.

William was greeted by an honour guard after his RAF Voyager landed at Marka Military Airport, a small airport on the outskirts of the capital, Amman.

Though billed as non-political, it's a high-profile foreign visit for the 36-year-old William, second in line to the British throne.

"I greatly admire the resilience you in Jordan have shown in the face of the many security and humanitarian challenges that have confronted you as a result of conflicts in this region", William said at the party. "In so many ways, Jordan as an open and stable society is a beacon of hope for many other people in the Middle East".

William will visit a technology lab for young Jordanians, tour a vocational training college with links to Britain's Middlesex University and meet Syrian refugee children.

Later in the day, he will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, after which he will meet Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the presidential residence.

Britain regards Israel as a close and important ally, but the visit comes at a time when the two countries have publicly disagreed over some major issues.

But the region is a minefield of sensitivities.

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East Jerusalem's Old City - home to a number of holy sites revered by Muslims, Christian, and Jews alike - was annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognized by the global community.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin condemned the royal itinerary characterization of east Jerusalem as "occupied", calling the reference a "distortion" that can not "change reality".

While members of the royal family have never made official state visits to Israel, Prince William's father Prince Charles was in Israel twice, but only to attend funerals: Yitzhak Rabin's in 1995 and Shimon Peres's in 2016.

The Duke of Cambridge began his historic trip to the Middle East by bonding with the Crown Prince of Jordan as they watched England's World Cup match against Panama.

William was keen to travel to the region and his presence in Ramallah will be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the plight of Palestinians, while in Jerusalem he will be showing solidarity with the Israelis.

During his visit to Israel, the Duke of Cambridge will visit the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre and lay a wreath where ashes of victims of the Holocaust are buried.

The governments were also at odds over Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a move lauded by Israel while Britain pledged to maintain the agreement.

William is visiting a region where three decades of British rule between the two world wars helped establish some of the fault lines of today's Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is seen as one of those countries that London needs to cultivate, and Prince William's visit is expected to play a part in that drive. ITV reports that after the pilot offered to keep him posted on the score, he joked to the crew, "On pain of death, please don't tell me", as he'd promised to watch the match later that night with his host, Jordan's crown prince.

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