Patel held a secret meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her 12-day visit to Israel in August (AFP)
A UK minister embroiled in a row over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials this summer visited a military field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights, Israeli daily Haaretz has reported.
According to the paper’s report, International Development Secretary Priti Patel visited the facility which treats Syrian refugees and victims of the civil war. The visit, however, was not listed in a statement released on Monday, detailing her previously undisclosed meetings during her holiday in Israel.
MEE has contacted the Department for International Development (DFID) and Patel’s office to comment on the latest revelations. Patel has reportedly cut a diplomatic trip to Africa short and is on her way back to London on Wednesday on the orders of Prime Minister Theresa May.
In addition to undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, Patel has come under fire for suggesting that money should be given to support ongoing “humanitarian operations” by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights.
It was not immediately clear whether the facility she allegedly visited in the Golan Heights and the operations she hoped to fund are one and the same.
However, in a statement earlier this week, a DFID spokesperson said that the secretary had discussed ways to provide medical support for Syrian refugees who are wounded and cross into the Golan for aid.
“The Israeli army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war. But there is no change in policy in the area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army,” the statement said.
Patel has apologised for holding a series of meetings with Israeli politicians, including the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while being accompanied by a senior pro-Israeli lobbyist during a “family holiday”.
The UK does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which was seized from Syria in the 1967 war. Providing aid to the Israeli army in the occupied territories would likely contravene UK policy and break international law.
Labour’s shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor told Middle East Eye that Patel’s actions were “deeply alarming” and “a clear breach of ministerial conduct”.
“If Priti Patel doesn’t resign, Theresa May must launch a full Cabinet Office investigation and uncover what really went on,” Osamor told MEE.
“It raises more urgent questions about what was discussed in her meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the foreign ministry, why no minutes were taken, and exactly what pressure she applied to her department.”
Clarifications and conventions
On Monday, Patel clarified previous remarks to the Guardian newspaper on Friday in which she had appeared to suggest that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew of her schedule beforehand.
A statement issued by Patel and the Department for International Development said: “This quote may have given the impression that the secretary of state had informed the foreign secretary about the visit in advance. The secretary of state would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.”
Patel also said: “This summer I travelled to Israel, on a family holiday paid for by 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 underway.
“In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be misread, and how meetings 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.”
Patel did not tell British diplomats that she was holding these meetings, which is the convention.
Andy Slaughter MP, a vice-chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, described Patel’s actions as the “final straw” and that Theresa May is “too weak and isolated to act”.
“News that Priti Patel used her secret meeting in Israel to advocate sending aid to support the work of the IDF in the occupied GolanHeights should be the final straw for her,” Slaughter told MEE.
“The UK is a significant donor to the Palestinian Authority but the future of that aid must be in doubt under a DFID Secretary of State who shows such bias and lack of judgment.”
“Any other Prime Minister at any other time would have dispensed with Patel’s services by now, but Theresa May is too weak and isolated to act.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May cancelled Tuesday’s cabinet meeting and said that she intended to tighten the ministerial code of conduct after it was revealed that Patel held secret meetings with Israeli officials.