Could Priti Patel’s secret meetings in Israel signal a shift in British foreign policy?
Patel heads a department which has a long history of humanitarian and development funding for Palestinians. Indeed she has taken a close interest in that funding, going so far as to announce a review last year which has already resulted in notable cuts of some £17m
Priti Patel has come under fire for holding meetings in Israel during her ‘family holiday’ Getty
Ok, so August may not be as ideal a time as spring for a visit. Tel Aviv is hot but it also has perhaps the best urban beaches in the world to plunge into the Med and cool off. And whether you’re floating in the Dead Sea or climbing Masada at sunrise, kayaking in the River Jordan or snorkelling in the Red Sea off Eilat, Israel is still a great holiday destination.
A pity then that Priti Patel seems to have had so little time to enjoy it on her now famous “family holiday” this summer. It can hardly have been that relaxing given that she averaged one meeting a day with politicians from Israel’s Prime Minister down to officials and voluntary organisations. Meetings of which, despite the fact that such a detailed programme must have been planned in advance, she failed to give the Foreign Office, the British Embassy or for that matter her own Prime Minister, any prior notice.
Much of the debate this has provoked – not to mention the speculation that if Theresa May was stronger she would have actually sacked the International Development Secretary – has concentrated on the gross breach of ministerial protocol involved – unprecedented in the view of the former Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Ricketts. Benjamin Netanyahu is not just any Prime Minister but one in a zone of conflict on which the UK government is supposed to have strong views. Any visiting minister, on holiday or not, would be expected at the very least to call up the embassy and say – “I’m seeing Bibi. Can I come in for a briefing? Is there anything I should be saying to him?” And of course to give a full account of what took place once it had happened.