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June 26, 2018 12:01 pm

UK Analyst: Prince William’s Visit to Israel Shows Shift Away From Foreign Office ‘Arabists’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Britain’s Prince William pays his respects during a ceremony commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis at the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. Debbie Hill / Pool via Reuters.

“A shift in geopolitics” and “a cultural change in the Foreign Office” led to Prince William’s official visit to Israel this week, the first by a member of the royal family, according to a prominent British analyst.

Times of London diplomatic editor Roger Boyes wrote in a lengthy piece that such a visit could never have occurred in the past. “The sheer political sensitivity of an official trip to modern Israel and to the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank is such that no member of the royal family has ever undertaken it,” he said.

Now, however, “[a] shift in geopolitics has made the visit possible — and a cultural change in the Foreign Office, which has for many decades advised the royal household that it is better to don the appropriate headgear and butter up Arab autocrats than engage with the gritty detail of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. The fear of giving offense to princelings has been the defining trait of the so-called camel corps of Britain’s Arab enthusiasts within the Foreign Office. It has, with flanking assistance from oil men and aerospace executives, become an almost institutional lobby that sees Israel as the troublemaker of the region and Arab leaders as being deeply misunderstood.”

Trained in Arab countries, the members of the Foreign Office “camel corps” embraced “a romantic vision of the Arab world” that “translated until recently into a sense that Palestinians have drawn the short straw. And that Israel is gaming the West and the Americans in particular. … The deep undercurrents of Arab civilization had to be respected, Arab grievances had to be taken seriously, even fetishized, if peace was to be achieved. It was a world view in which Israel was a disruptor of the natural order.”

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Boyes cited an email exchange between “two courtiers” in 2007 regarding a possible royal visit to Israel, which included the statement, “Safe to assume there is no chance of this visit ever actually happening? Acceptance would make it hard to avoid the many ways in which Israel would want HRH to burnish its international image.”

Needless to say, the old guard are not happy about William’s visit or the shift it represents, Noyes noted.

“There’s no mistaking the anger simmering among Britain’s Arabists,” Noyes wrote. “Donald Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the support for Israeli settlements, the strength of the connection between Bibi Netanyahu and the president: all this turned their world upside down.”

“The fact is the caravan has moved on,” Noyes said. “The Sunni Gulf Arabs share a common enemy with Israel: Iran. And the Palestinians are becoming a source of irritation for many Arab governments rather than a holy cause. When Israeli soldiers opened fire on Hamas-inspired protesters at the Gaza-Israel border wall last month, there was some official Arab grumbling but no serious political bust-up. The threat of Iran has become the overriding threat and Hamas receives Iranian support.”

Trapped in their old positions, the “Arabists” will have to face the fact that the situation has changed, Noyes concluded. “These positions will have to yield to new realities,” he said. “And the camel corps will have to adapt or be put out to pasture.”

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