UK govt’s impartiality questioned; comments Palestinian ambassador May faces new challenges amidst political crisis as second ‘wicket’ falls
LONDON:International Development Secretary Priti Patel had to pay price for his her secret or unauthorised meetingsin Israel and quit onWednesday becoming the latest Cabinet member caught up in a whirlwind of scandals rocking Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. Ms Patel was accompanied to nearly all of her meetings with Israeli ministers, charities and non-governmental organisations by honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group, Lord Polak.
She apologised for setting up andreportingthemeetings “inaway which did not accord with the usual procedures” and clarified her claim thatForeignSecretaryBorisJohnson “knew about the visit”, admitting he did not know about it in advance. Ms Patelsaid: “Thissummer I travelled to Israel, on a family holiday paid for myself. “While away, I had the opportunity to meet a number of people and organisations. I am publishing a list of who I met.? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of my visit while it was under way?.
“In hindsight, I can see how myenthusiasmtoengage inthisway could bemisread, and howmeetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it. “My first and only aim asthe Secretary of State for InternationalDevelopmentistoputthe interests ofBritish taxpayers and the world’s poor at the front of our development work.” Ms Patel’s meetings in Israel between August 13 and 25 were arranged by the honorary president ofthe lobbying groupConservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak, who also attended all but one.
On returning fromhertrip,Ms Patel commissionedDepartmentforInternational Development (Dfid) work on disability and humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and the UK. The BBC reported that Ms Patel also suggested that some of Britain’s aid budget go to the Israeli army to support humanitarian work in the occupied Golan Heights. Palestinian ambassador The issue has r a i s e d f r e s h questions about the UK government’s impartiality in mediating conflict in the Middle East, according to the Palestinian ambassador in London. In her resignation letter Ms Patel said: “I accept that in meeting with organisations and politicians during a private holiday in Israel my actions fell below the high standards that are expected of a Secretary of State.”
Atotal of 14 previously undisclosed engagements between Patel and Israeli representatives, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cast doubt on the UK’s integrity as a peace broker,Ambassador Manuel Hassassian toldArab News. “The consequences of (Patel’s) act will definitely now make the Palestinians question the intentions of the British government,” he said. Aside from Patel failing to disclose to the public her contact with Israeli officials, Hassassian said the unevenness of her trip spoke volumes about the British government’s priorities. “She did not even meet with any of the Palestinian authorities,” he said, accusing Downing Street of “not playing a fair hand” in its approach to the two sides. I question the sincerity of this government (when it comes to) a two-state solution,” he added.
Hassassian said that the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain officially lent its support to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was the first step in dispossessing the Palestinian people of their land. Revelation ofscam The ‘scandal’ came to a head on Wednesday when it was revealed that Patel had visited a field hospital run by the Israeli Army in the occupied Golan Heights. While Israelseized the region from Syria in the 1967 War, the British government does notrecognize the Jewish state’s claim to the territory, which has been condemned as illegal by the UN. British diplomats are not normally permitted to travel there under official Israeli auspices. Following her visit to the disputed territory, Patelsuggested that British aid money be allocated to a humanitarian project there managed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Number 10 was forced to deny knowledge of the plan.
Prime Minister Theresa May summoned Patel back from Kenya to answer questions about the unofficial trip. By the time Patel’sflight landed on Wednesday afternoon, analysts and pundits were already debating her most likely replacements. Revelations about Patel’s meetings, 12 of which took place during a family trip to Israel, raise serious questions about May’s ability to maintain discipline in her Cabinet, said Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University, London. “There probably should have been someone from the embassy involved … If you’re talking about serious matters with implications for the foreign policy of the United Kingdom, you can’t have (these meetings) on the side,” he said.
The incident comes just a week after the resignation of Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who had been mired in allegations of sexual harassment. Fallon was known as a staunch ally of Prime Minister May. May’s reaction Prime Minister Theresa May has hit out at Priti Patel aftershe resigned as International Development Secretary over unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians.In her letter accepting Ms Patel’s resignation, Mrs May said that “it is right” that she resigned after “further information” came to light. In her reply to Ms Patel, Mrs May said: “As you know, the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally, and through official channels. That is why, when we met on Monday, I was glad to accept your apology and w e l c o m e d your clarification about the trip to Israel over the summer. ”
N o w that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and opennessthat you have advocated.” The prime minister met Ms Patel this evening for a short meeting at Downing Street, shortly after Ms Patel touched down from Nairobi. She had summoned back from an official visit to Africa for a showdown with Theresa May in Downing Street. During a 6 minute meeting with Mrs May the former Int e rna tiona l Development S e c r e t a r y handed in her resignation. M s Patel had been intending to spend three days in Kenya and Uganda, but was forced to cut short her trip and return home from Nairobi to explain the disclosure of further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians. During a 6 minute meeting with Mrs May the former International Development Secretary handed in her resignation. She had assured the Prime Minister just two days ago that there was no more to come out about her meetings. New challenges for May Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a second reshuffle in a week as she attempts to reassert her authority following Priti Patel’s resignation. She accepted the resignation of her international development secretary after Ms Patel acknowledged that secret meetings with senior Israeli figures “fell below the high standards” expected of a Cabinet minister.
The Prime Minister faces a politically sensitive challenge in replacing prominent Brexit-backer Ms Patel. Her decision to appoint G a v i n Williamson as D e f e n c e Secretary after Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation last week was openly criticised by some of her MPs and Mrs May will be anxious to avoid creating further unrest in her fragile administration.
The Prime Minister could be keen to replace Ms Patel with another Brexit-backer in order to placate Eurosceptic MPs on the Conservative benches and maintain the current balance within the Cabinet. Prominent Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that disgruntled Remainers could have been behind the leak which led to Ms Patel’s downfall. He said that generally conspiracy theories are wrong” because “people aren’t behaving according to some grand Marxist plan. “But nonetheless there are still some people who are still very bitter about the result a year ago and inevitably that colours their behaviour,” he told BBC’s Newsnight. “If you go into how did Priti Patel’s visit come out in the first place, was it leaked by the Foreign O f f i c e , was it leaked by s o m e – body at the Foreign Office who resented her and probably the Foreign Secretary’s role in Brexit, you may find something.”