RAMALLAH, West Bank – Britain’s Prince William traveled to the West Bank on Wednesday, spreading a message of peace as he met with the Palestinian president and toured a Palestinian refugee camp.
The Duke of Cambridge was welcomed by an honor guard as he turned his attention to the Palestinians on the second day of his swing through the Holy Land. It is the first official visit to the area by a member of the royal family.
The Palestinians were eager to welcome him, hoping the visit will give them a boost as they struggled with a Trump administration they considered biased in favor of Israel. Abbas appealed to the prince and the British people to support the Palestinian campaign for independence.
William, trying to steer clear of politics, praised what he called the close ties between Britain and the Palestinians.
“I’m very glad that our two countries work so closely together and have had success stories with education and relief work,” he said. “My sentiments are the same as yours in hoping that there is a lasting peace in the region.”
William continued to the nearby Jalazoun refugee camp, where he met with Palestinian youths, ate hummus and other local dishes and visited a school and a clinic. Footage showed William wearing sunglasses as he sat watching a traditional Arab folk dance.
The facilities are run by UNWRA, the U.N. relief program that assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East. The agency has been hit hard by a U.S. decision to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
Though William’s trip is being billed as non-political, he is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visiting sites at the heart of the century-old conflict.
The Kensington Palace’s Twitter account posted a photo of the prince posing with scouts, looking on as a girl in a hijab kicked a soccer ball and sitting with girls at the school.
Speaking at the British Consulate in Jerusalem after his West Bank visit, Prince William said he saw “an unforgettable display of Palestinian culture and hospitality” in Ramallah.
William said he was “struck by how many people in the region want a just and lasting peace.” He added these are the “same aspirations of young people everywhere in the world.”
“My message tonight is that you have not been forgotten,” the prince said.
He said he hopes his visit will strengthen the friendship between the Palestinian and British people. “The United Kingdom stands with you as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous future,” the prince said.
After the speech he spoke to groups of people, including some residents of Gaza, Palestinian politicians, and members of youth organizations.
Earlier on Wednesday, William began the day by strolling down Tel Aviv’s trendy Rothschild Boulevard and meeting young artists and entrepreneurs in Israel’s cultural and financial capital.
Wearing a beige summer blazer, light blue shirt, blue pants and brown suede loafers, he met Netta Barzilai, winner of this year’s Eurovision song contest, and had a cold drink at one of the famous kiosks along the boulevard named after the late 19th-century British-Jewish banker and philanthropist who contributed greatly to the Jewish community in the Holy Land.
Thousands of onlookers gathered behind police barriers to catch a glimpse of the prince, with some shouting “we love William” toward the second in line to the throne.
The prince casually smiled and waved before attending a cultural event on the rooftop of a museum where he met young people engaged in youth activism, social impact and the environment. There, he lauded Israel for being way ahead of the world in its water recycling and conservation efforts.
“It’s going to be a really big issue for us in the future,” he said. “I think my generation, my children as well, there’s a legacy here … we need to tidy up a bit.”
Jonathan Weiss, a tour guide who accompanied the prince on Wednesday, said William was impressed by how youthful the city is and “what a great vibe” it has and said that the next “time he comes, he plans to bring his swimming trunks.”
Three decades of British rule between the two world wars helped establish some of the fault lines of today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Britain’s withdrawal in 1948 led to the eventual establishment of Israel and Jordan, where the prince kicked off the five-day Mideast tour on Sunday.
For the 36-year-old William, it marks a high-profile visit that could burnish his international credentials. He met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and paid an emotional visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Tuesday.
William wraps up his visit on Thursday with a visit to the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. In 1988 her remains were brought to Jerusalem.
Associated Press writer Aron Heller contributed to this report from Tel Aviv, Israel. Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap