Duke of Cambridge treads diplomatic tightrope in Israel and is asked to take ‘message of peace’ to Palestine

The Duke of Cambridge’s first full day of his visit to Israel demonstrated what a diplomatic tightrope he must tread on this most politically sensitive of royal trips. The day began at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, followed by a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister and President at their official residences, before meeting representatives of youth and environmental groups on Tel Aviv beach.

At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Duke honoured the memory of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis by laying a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance. The first senior member of the Royal Family to make an official visit to Israel, Prince William viewed a powerful display of victims’ shoes and commented: “Terrifying. I’m trying to comprehend the scale.”

Inside the centre’s Hall of Names, which honours those whose resting place is unknown, he read some of the personal details of the millions who perished. Their names are recorded on Pages of Testimony, which serve as tombstones.

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During his visit, the Prince met survivors of the Holocaust and Kindertransport, Paul Minkes-Alexander and Henry Foner. Mr Foner, 86, was sent to Wales on the Kindertransport by his father, and described being able to meet Prince William and thank him for what his country did as “like a fairy tale”.

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Accompanying The Duke was the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, who described the visit by saying: “This is a historic day. The excitement is felt throughout Israel and Britain, around the Jewish world, and just to see Prince William here is something very very special.”

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Later, at the residence of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prince William met with two descendants of people his great grandmother, Princess Alice sheltered during the Holocaust.

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In 1913 Haimaki Cohen, had aided King George I of Greece. In return, King George had offered him any service that he could perform should Cohen ever need it. Years later, during the Nazi threat from the German army’s occupation of Athens, Cohen’s son remembered this, and appealed to Princess Alice, who, was one of only two remaining members of the Royal Family left in Greece. She honoured the promise and saved the Cohen family by hiding them, thus avoiding their deportation to a concentration camp.

The second in line to the throne then went on to visit the President of Israel, President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence. The two found common ground for conversation – football. Prince William is President of the FA and President Rivlin is a staunch Liverpool FC supporter. William, presented him with a Liverpool shirt signed by former player Steven Gerrard.

President Ruvlin then edged the Duke towards an area that officials have been at pains to avoid – the region’s political climate. At the end of talks between the pair, the President told the Duke: “I know you are going to meet President Abbas, I would like you to send him a message of peace and tell him it is about time, it is about time that we have to find together the way to build confidence.

“Build confidence as a first step to bring to understanding that we have to bring to an end the tragedy between us that goes along for more than 120 years.”

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The day then continued with a visit to Frishman beach in Tel Aviv. Showing the stark contrasts in tone of the engagements the Royal is undertaking during his short visit, Prince William was met by crowds of people in beach wear chanting “Willie, Willie” to try and draw his attention.

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Encouraged to take part on a game of footvolley, the Prince was cajoled into kicking the ball successfully over the net in the sweltering heat. Looking relaxed as he strolled along he beach, William spoke to the players as well as lifeguards about the work they do in the area.

The Duke’s day ended with a garden party hosted by the British Ambassador, where he addressed the invited guests.

Wishing guests “Erez tov lekulam”, he told the gathering: “From the early stories of the kibbutzim; to the revival of Hebrew as a living, modern language; to the hi-tech economies that we see around us here in Tel Aviv – the modern story of Israel is one of inventing, creating, innovating, and striding confidently into its future.” That future, he suggested, lay partly in the message of projects like the British Embassy and UJIA-backed Equilizer programme which unites Jewish and Arab youngsters through a shared love of football.

The Duke continued: “The ties between our two countries have never been stronger, whether in our record levels of trade and investment, our cooperation in science and technology; or the work we do together to keep our people safe.”

Turning to the thornier issues, he added: “Never has hope and reconciliation been more needed. I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbours, for a just and lasting peace.”

The royal tour continues today as the Prince heads to Palestine and a meeting with President Abbas.

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