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British Aid Minister’s Position in Doubt after Holding Undisclosed Meetings with Israeli Officials

British Aid Minister’s Position in Doubt after Holding Undisclosed Meetings with Israeli Officials

Wednesday, 8 November, 2017 - 11:00
British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel. (Reuters)

British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel is facing an uncertain future over his position after it was revealed that she held a series of undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials.

The issue adds even more pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, who has her hands full with Brexit negotiations and the resignation of her defense secretary following a sexual harassment scandal.

Patel apologized to May on Monday for failing to report that she had met senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a holiday - breaking rules by straying into matters reserved for the foreign ministry.

On Wednesday, the Sun newspaper reported that she had also failed to disclose that she had met the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yuval Rotem, in New York and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in London.

A government source confirmed those meetings took place.

Patel, a Brexit campaigner whose views chime with many in the governing Conservative Party, was heading back to London after canceling meetings on a planned trip to Africa, an official at her Department for International Development said.

Asked whether she should be dismissed, Conservative lawmaker Crispin Blunt, former chair of the influential foreign affairs select committee, told Reuters it was a “matter for the PM.”

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson meanwhile told reporters in Brussels: “The prime minister makes her own decision on actually who is serving in her cabinet, and they’re only the prime minister’s decisions.”

The source said that no UK government officials were present for the discussions, and they were set up and reported in a way that did not accord with the usual procedures.

Last week, close May ally Michael Fallon, the defense minister, was forced to resign over a growing sexual misconduct scandal in parliament.

The potential loss of another minister will further unsettle May, who, while struggling to push talks to leave the European Union forward, has faced criticism from opponents for her handling of everything from a deadly apartment block fire this year to the ongoing sexual harassment claims.

“There are times when a government has the stench of death about it,” Pat McFadden, a lawmaker from the main opposition Labor Party, told parliament on Tuesday.

Patel held 12 meetings with Israeli groups and officials, including Netanyahu, during a vacation in the country in August. She did not inform May or her colleagues about it.

She later discussed with her department the possibility of British aid being given to the Israeli army to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Golan Heights.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday that Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights during her August trip. Britain regards Israel as illegally occupying the territory, which it captured from Syria in 1967.

Patel's situation has been made worse by her contradictory statements about the meetings.

When news broke about the August trip, Patel insisted that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "knew about the visit." Her department was later forced to clarify the statement, saying "the foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it."

Patel apologized, saying the meetings "did not accord with the usual procedures."

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