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Prince William's visit creates boundless potential to delight and offend

This summer's royal visit will be in a class of its own for discretion and vigilance

    Prince William in London on Wednesday
    Prince William in London on Wednesday (Photo: PA)

    Royal visits are always carefully stage-managed affairs, but this one will be in a class of its own for discretion and vigilance.

    This is, after all, a part of the world where the wrong word uttered in the wrong place can provoke visceral anger. Just about any discussion on the Middle East – on television, at a conference panel, during Friday night dinner – is testament to that.

    Strong opinions have a similarly destructive effect.

    When US President Donald Trump announced in December that, to the delight of many Jews, his country now recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, thousands of Palestinians took the streets of the West Bank in protest. Twelve people died in the violence that followed.

    Of course, Prince William will not be saying anything of the kind. Royal visits are about channelling British foreign policy, not shaping it.

    A royal visit is an expression of UK soft power – one of the tools that Britain uses, besides its military, to influence other countries – and the prince’s overriding objective will be to flatter his hosts simply by being there.

    We know nothing yet of Prince William’s itinerary apart from Kensington Palace’s confirmation that the visit will include “Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, but the places he ends up going to will be scrutinised forensically.

    Will he take in a day trip to Jerusalem to see both the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount?

    Or will the Anglican prince play it a little safer for the Palestinian leg of his tour by visiting somewhere spiritually significant – Bethlehem, say – during his time in the West Bank?

    He will also be closely watched for the terminology he uses.

    Britain’s policy has long been to treat the West Bank as territory occupied by Israel, but will the prince make a point of calling it that? Will he utter the P-word – Palestine – and refer during his inevitable meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “Mr President”?

    The opportunities to cause delight and offence are boundless.

    But the fact this is the first official visit by a royal to the region since the Second World War shows Britain believes there is something to gain.

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