UK aid minister Patel resigns over secret Israel meetings

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Thu, 2009-11-12 06:00

LONDON: Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel quit on Wednesday over unauthorized meetings in Israel, becoming the latest Cabinet member caught up in a whirlwind of scandals rocking Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.
The issue has raised fresh questions about the UK government’s impartiality in mediating conflict in the Middle East, according to the Palestinian ambassador in London.
A total 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 told Arab News.
“The consequences of (Patel’s) act will definitely now make the Palestinians question the intentions of the British government,” he told Arab News.
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.
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 Israel seized the region from Syria in the 1967 War, the British government does not recognize 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, Patel suggested 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’s flight 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.
Mekelberg joined a chorus of voices who questioned whether May’s government would be able to survive another resignation. “The balance within the government is so delicate right now,” he added. “The prime minister is in dire straits.”
The diplomatic debacle comes as the British government is already under fire for hosting Netanyahu as guest of honor at an event marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration last week.
Hassassian has 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.

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