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Prince Charles' visit to Palestine helps us focus on resolving the conflict

Britain's Prince Charles at the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on 23 January 2020 [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP/Getty Images]
Britain's Prince Charles at the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on 23 January 2020 [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP/Getty Images]

It is with great pride and much excitement that Palestine will tomorrow receive His Royal Highness, Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles will be the most senior British royal to visit the occupied Palestinian territories when he goes to Bethlehem, where he will be met by His Excellency, President Mahmoud Abbas.

He is the second senior royal to do so in just two years. His son, Prince William, visited Palestine in 2018, a visit that left a lasting impression, with Prince William telling Palestinians that "you have not been forgotten."

The visit of Prince Charles underscores this message and it comes at a historic moment in the UK's relationship with Palestine and the rest of the world.

In 2016, the people of the United Kingdom took the decision to leave the European Union, a decision that was reaffirmed in the last general election.

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Among the many consequences of that decision is the question of what role the UK will forge for itself in the international arena after Brexit.

With a historic global role that spans centuries, countries everywhere have come to expect of London a certain cool, level-headed handling of world affairs and an innate sense of fairness.

These attributes have never been more important.

Pro Brexit protesters gather to stage a demonstration at Parliament Square as British MPs debate the Brexit deal before voting it for the third time in London, United Kingdom on 29 March 2019. ( Tayfun Salcı - Anadolu Agency )

Pro Brexit protesters gather to stage a demonstration at Parliament Square as British MPs debate the Brexit deal before voting it for the third time in London, United Kingdom on 29 March 2019 [Tayfun Salcı/Anadolu Agency]

The UK played a key role in building the post-World War II rules-based international order, erected not only to ensure that we never again witness horrors like those of World War II, but to spread peace and prosperity around the globe on the basis of equality before law.

These principles of international rule of law underpin our very sense of civilisation.

But they are under threat; not only from rogue states and non-state actors, but from governments that ought otherwise to be trusted with defending these principles.

Nowhere is this threat more obvious than in the occupied East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza. Here, an illegal military occupation has lasted for more than half a century. Today it is expanding, not contracting, in spite of numerous UN resolutions and nearly 30 years of peace process.

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Clear transgressions of international law are intensifying. They include illegal colonial settlement building in occupied territory, a siege on Gaza and the denial of basic rights to the native Palestinian population.

We have an Israeli prime minister who publicly promises to annex swathes of occupied territory, in direct contradiction to international law.

Indeed, with Washington changing the official US position on all major issues including on settlements, the fundamental international principle rejecting the acquisition of territory by force is being undermined in order to accommodate this situation.

Jewish settlements near Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on 10 February 2015 [Nedal Eshtayah/Apaimages]

Jewish settlements near Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on 10 February 2015 [Nedal Eshtayah/Apaimages]

Let us be clear: Israel's government is not seeking any kind of equitable solution based on equal rights. Rather, it is seeking to impose a situation in which Israel takes the land, but treats the land's indigenous Palestinians as aliens. This is not – cannot be – acceptable to any country in the modern world. And least of all the UK, with its unique role in Palestine; its time-honoured legal system; and its position as a generator and guarantor of a global vision that understands all people to be equal, in rights and law.

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There are still ways to steady the ship and set course for a peaceful solution. Indeed, the path is well understood; the institutions for its implementation exist and the legal framework is long established.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is key for Middle East peace. And Middle East peace, as the UK understands better than anyone, is crucial for world peace.

The UK finds itself with a stark choice post-Brexit. It can either be bullied by others into abandoning the global order it was so instrumental in establishing; or it can resume for itself its historic position as a defender of this rules-based international system at a time when it is in real danger of collapse.

The visit to Palestine of Prince Charles is of course not about politics. But it is the most senior British royal visit since the 1917 Balfour Declaration. That fateful declaration led directly to the Palestinian people's ongoing dispossession, suffering and statelessness.

Londoners mark 100 years since Balfour Declaration in a protest to recognise the on-going oppression of Palestinians and calling for an apology from the British government, in London on 4 November, 2017

Londoners mark 100 years since Balfour Declaration in a protest to recognise the on-going oppression of Palestinians and calling for an apology from the British government, in London on 4 November 2017 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

The visit therefore offers an opportunity to refocus minds on resolving one of the world's great sources of discontent and strife. Palestine and the UK have recognised Israel. It is time for the UK to acknowledge Parliament's vote of 2014 and recognise the State of Palestine.

Recognition is no substitute for peace-making. It will act, however, to preserve the two-state vision that has been – and continues, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to be – British policy.

Peace is possible. Its parameters are well known. All it needs is commitment to law and an investment in a vision for peace that renews the hopes of millions of people on all sides.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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