The Duke of Cambridge has been urged by Israel’s president to take a “message of peace” to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and encourage him to take the “first step” with Israel to end the “tragedy” between their people.
President Reuven Rivlin’s comments have drawn William into the politics of the region and given the remaining days of his historic Middle East tour greater importance.
Speaking at his official residence during a meeting with the duke and his small delegation Mr Rivlin said: “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.”
The duke’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the first time a member of the Royal Family has travelled to the areas at the request of the Government, and something William was keen to do.
It comes during a period of tension in the area – dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests this year at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip in the run-up to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.
In response to the president’s comments William said he was “hoping that peace in the area can be achieved”.
President Rivlin, a former speaker in the Israeli parliament or Knesset, has made a point of reaching out to his country’s Arab population and is known to support merging Jewish settlers and potentially millions of Palestinians into a single state.
He began his comments by speaking about the importance of William’s visit, saying: “This land knows a lot about history, you are writing a new page in history because we’ve had a lot of kings and princes that came to Jerusalem during the history of Jerusalem, history of three or four thousand years.
“You are the first one not to come only as a prince but also as a pilgrim to the holy land and to Jerusalem – and we welcome you from the bottom of our hearts.”
William spoke about his visit earlier in the day to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem, and how touring the museum had deepened his knowledge about the extermination of six million Jews.
He told the president: “I had a very moving tour around Yad Vashem this morning which really taught me quite a lot more than I thought I already knew about the true horrors of what happened to the Jews.”
Speaking about his visit, William added: “So I’m very much looking forward to really absorbing and understanding the different issues, the different cultures, the different religions, culminating in a visit which will be very interesting and very symbolic for me in the Old City on Thursday, which I’m very much looking forward to seeing.”
Earlier the duke had paid a visit to the official residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also recognised the importance of William’s presence in Israel.
He told the duke as he arrived: “It’s a very historic visit. The whole people of Israel are excited.”