Palestinian activists and academics have denounced the "deceptive conduct" of a UK Cabinet minister who was forced to resign yesterday after it was revealed she held secret meetings with Israeli leaders.
International Development Secretary Priti Patel was recalled from East Africa on Wednesday morning by Prime Minister Theresa May after fresh evidence emerged of Patel having off-diary, unauthorised meetings with prominent Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Patel's wealthy parents are Ugandan Asians.
Some have called Patel’s secret meetings, while "on holiday" in Israel, “disappointing” and “a matter of grave concern”, while others have been much harsher on the Conservative MP, who was the first British Indian to serve in a UK Cabinet.
Academic Dr Ghada Karmi, research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, said Patel’s actions reminded Palestinians they have no friends within the British government – just as things were a century ago.
She commented: “The current government marked the Balfour [Declaration] centenary on November 2nd ‘with pride’ – as if dispossessing the native population of Palestine in 1948, or supporting the apartheid state [of Israel] that was created then were causes for pride.”
Karmi added: “And now that the British secretary of state for International Development Priti Patel has been caught out making unauthorised contacts with members of the Israeli government…Israel's interest in Patel has to do with cutting off British aid to the Palestinians, through her department, and also to fighting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign [against Israel], both of which Patel was in a position to bring about.”
Dr Karmi went on to question hardline Brexit-supporting Patel’s motives, speculating whether her shady meetings were merely a prelude to a Conservative Party leadership power-grab.
“It seems what is in it for her is a leg-up in her bid to become the next British prime minister,” the Palestinian born academic and author said.
Dr Karmi wasn’t alone in questioning if Patel’s secret dealings were an attempt to strengthen her future in politics. A statement released by the Palestinian Mission to the UK echoed the same concerns.
“It may be that the minister is also trying to strengthen her own political career with such formidable friends who may have been disheartened by [Boris Johnson] the Foreign Secretary’s recent talk of the unfinished business of the Balfour declaration and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” it said.
The statement went on: “We urge the government of Prime Minister Theresa May not to add insult to injury after the celebratory ‘marking’ of the Balfour declaration and to make a public statement about this scandalous affair to assure the international community that Britain is still firmly committed to the two-state solution.”
Patel’s tangled web of subterfuge has unravelled even further, with details emerging of two other secret meetings with Israeli officials, in addition to the 12 already exposed to the public.
It is now claimed that she met with Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at Westminster and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York in September.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP) outlined in a press statement on Wednesday that working towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians is fraught enough without a British government minister potentially subverting established UK policy.
“As Jewish opponents of the occupation, JFJFP is concerned that Patel has cut aid to the Palestinian territories, where the population is often impoverished as a result of the occupation. Instead, she seems to want to channel UK aid to projects involving the Israeli Defence Forces. We question the financial sense and moral purpose of her actions.”
A Number 10 spokesman confirmed that a conversation had taken place between Patel and Israeli officials, after it was reported that she had suggested funnelling money to Israel's armed forces to assist with what they said would be medical support for wounded Syrian refugees in the Golan Heights area of Syria the Israelis have occupied since 1967.
“The Israeli army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war,” the British prime minister’s spokesman said.
“But there is no change in policy in the area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal said Patel’s aid proposal is far worse than breached protocols, but called for the complete disclosure of her off-the-book meetings.
“That she would conduct a visit to occupied territory and propose giving aid to support the illegally occupying military force in that area, whatever the intended usage of the money, is worse,” Jamal said.
“But scrutiny also needs to be given to the fact that two of the secret meetings were with Gilad Erdan. He has no developmental brief. His ministerial brief is to suppress activism for Palestinian human rights in Israel and abroad. The purpose of Patel’s meetings with him and the full agenda need to be disclosed.”