For all of its economic, military and cultural strength that has made it a regional superpower, the State of Israel remains a little insecure. After having its legitimacy denied by so much of the world for so long, Israel’s people still hunger for recognition. That’s why the comings and goings of celebrities and pop stars are often treated as serious news, rather than fodder for gossip columns.
So when a really important celebrity appears in Israel, the country seems to turn itself inside out and upside down discussing the matter. Hence, the arrival of Britain’s Prince William is being seen as an earth-shaking event of major historical importance. But as much as there is reason to pay attention to the heir to the British throne, the fuss that is being made over it has more to do with celebrity than Israel’s standing in the world. And that’s why the presence in the country of another prince of a sort—presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner—is actually far more significant.
Let’s concede that having a member of the royal family make an official state visit (other royals, including William’s grandfather Prince Phillip, have made “private” trips) to Israel is welcome. After a 70-year boycott, the willingness of the United Kingdom to let one of the Windsors step foot in the Jewish state with cameras flashing is a milestone. That his itinerary lists his visit to the Old City of Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory” is an outrageous insult, but his presence in the country is yet another sign of Israel’s permanence.
Still, the notion that Israel needs the 36-year-old Duke of Cambridge (Prince William’s official title) to verify its place in the world is more than a little silly.
Britain’s royals are more popular than ever these days. Queen Elizabeth has no real power, but a heaping dose of moral authority and respect. If for years many people saw her as a stuffy bore, especially in comparison to her glamorous late daughter-in-law Princess Diana, more of us are now prepared to admire her for the same sturdy qualities for which she was once reviled. The riveting Netflix series “The Crown,” which has depicted her early years as queen, can be credited for some of that new respect. But at 92, Queen Elizabeth seems to embody all of the sterling qualities that the modern world in general seems to lack.
It’s also true that the younger royals are extremely attractive and charming, including William and his wife, Kate Middleton, and Harry and his new American wife, Meghan Markle. Plus, William and Kate’s three young children are simply adorable.
But the attention given these people is largely a matter of marketing, as opposed to their actual importance. Hard as this may be for some fans to accept, the royals are the moral equivalent of theme-park characters. They play much the same role for Britain as Mickey and Minnie Mouse do for Disney World. Though William and Harry did serve for a time in the British military, the uniforms they wear for public ceremonies are, as a line attributed to their grandfather in “The Crown” so aptly put it, “costumes.” The same applies to the fashions modeled by their wives and their world-famous grandmother.
There is some irony in that Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein appeared flattered to be pictured with William during his visit to that country before entering Israel. But if Hussein eventually does succeed his father, he will be an actual autocrat with more power than any British monarch has had in centuries.
Also visiting the region at the same time was the Trump princeling Jared Kushner.
To say that Kushner, 37, is not as popular as William is the understatement of the century. The son of a New Jersey real estate magnate with a criminal past, Jared Kushner’s main qualification for his current job as White House senior adviser with responsibility for the Middle East peace process, among other portfolios, was his marriage to U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka. He and Ivanka once moved seamlessly among the fashionable wealthy elites of New York City, but are now pariahs in their old haunts because of their association with her father’s administration.
Though it’s hard to take Kushner seriously as a diplomat, the truth is that his recent trip should earn him some new respect.
In the region, to promote the administration’s forthcoming peace plan, Kushner gave an interview with a Palestinian media outlet that was, in its own way, of greater historic importance than William’s itinerary.
In it, he called out Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for his repeated rejection of peace and refusal to negotiate seriously with Israel or the United States. More importantly, he noted that Abbas has betrayed his people. Though Abbas has made it clear that he will not even speak to the Americans about the Trump plan because he sees its terms, which are less generous than previous American offers, as insulting, the reality is that Kushner thought the Palestinian people might be more interested in peace than their leaders. That’s especially true since the Americans and the Israelis want to promote economic development for the Palestinians, while Abbas’s Fatah and their Hamas rivals have sacrificed their people’s interests in order to continue their futile century-old war against Zionism.
Like the rest of the Trump team, Kushner sees the conflict as a real estate transaction in which the Palestinians are the moral equivalent of a property owner with a run-down property that isn’t worth much today. If they’re going to get their state, he figures, then they are going to have bargain.
Kushner’s efforts won’t succeed; the conflict centers on the Palestinians’ refusal to accept that they have lost their long battle to destroy Israel. It’s about the Jewish state, not real estate. But, for a change, he deserves credit for telling the Palestinians some truths that they didn’t hear from previous administrations, even if few people here or there respect him.
Though William is the one the world adores right now, if we all paid more attention to what the other far less loved visiting prince just said, then perhaps the Middle East might move closer to peace.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.