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UK minister Priti Patel held undisclosed meeting with Israel's Netanyahu

International development minister apologises for August meetings in Israel and admits Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was not aware of them
Priti Patel said in a statement that she was sorry for organising meetings that "did not accord with the usual procedures" (AFP)

A senior British minister on Monday admitted that she held a previously undisclosed meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while on holiday in Israel in August.

Priti Patel, the international development secretary, also said that the meeting and others with senior Israeli officials had been conducted without the knowledge of the British Foreign Office and apologised for failing to follow "usual procedures".

She said they had also been attended by Stuart Polak, the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel and an influential pro-Israel lobbyist.

Patel also 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.

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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."

A list published by the Department for International Development of meetings that Priti Patel attended while in Israel (Screengrab/gov.uk)

The list showed that Patel also held meetings with Yuval Rotem, a senior official at the Israeli foreign ministry; Gilad Erdan, the minister for public security, information and strategic affairs; and Yair Lapid, a former finance minister in Netanyahu's coalition government and the leader of Israel's centrist Yesh Atid party.

She also held several meetings with representatives of charities and NGOs involved in aid and humanitarian work.

The statement said that Patel and Netanyahu had held an "introductory meeting" in which they had discussed Patel's family background as the daughter of Ugandan Indian migrants growing up in an area of the UK with a "thriving Jewish community".

They also discussed the Israeli domestic political scene, India, Netanyahu's then-forthcoming visit to London to mark the centenary last week of the Balfour declaration, and "prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the UK on development and humanitarian issues".

Patel has faced criticism and calls for her to resign or be sacked over the meetings.

Kate Osamor, the international development spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party, said on Monday that Patel had breached the ministerial code and should either resign or face an investigation.

Andy Slaughter, a member of parliament for the main opposition Labour Party and a vice-chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, told Middle East Eye on Friday that Patel's actions had been "outrageous" and compromised Britain's standing as an "honest broker" in distributing aid around the world.

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"Patel has a history of showing favouritism to Israel and is suspected to cut or divert the essential aid that the UK sends to the Palestine Authority," Slaughter told MEE. 

"This is another out-of-control minister in [British Prime Minister] Theresa May's weak government, but this time with implications for Britain's standing in the world as an honest broker and model for fairness in distributing aid. 

"She is the cabinet minister in charge of Britain's aid budget but sees fit to go rogue in a foreign country with the assistance of lobbyists and that country's officials, but without the knowledge of the foreign office."

A spokesperson for May's office said on Monday: "The prime minister welcomes the secretary of state’s clarification about her trip to Israel and has accepted her apology for her handling of the matter.

"The prime minister met the secretary of state this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code."