Patel should have been fired


The disgraced and now former British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel should not have been allowed to resign. She should have been fired. She had secret meetings with the Tel Aviv government – discovered by leaked news reports - while she was on a supposed holiday in Israel that were apparently kept from both the foreign secretary and the prime minister’s office. Once Patel admitted what was obvious wrongdoing, she also did not tell the whole truth. As it turns out, she held a dozen secret meetings with senior Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, again without the knowledge of 10 Downing Street. This was a stunning breach of protocol. Patel took no officials with her to the meetings, at which no minutes were kept.

As if this was not embarrassment enough for the UK government, it soon emerged that Patel had proposed diverting British aid money to fund the Israeli army’s “humanitarian” activities in the Golan Heights, even though the Golan is territory which Britain has not recognized since it was captured by Israel 50 years ago.

Three years ago Israel created something called the Good Neighbor policy, providing thousands of Syrians across the border medical assistance, humanitarian aid, food and basic infrastructure. The purpose of this largess by Israel is clear: to stabilize the border region by showing Syrians that Israel is not, in fact, evil. But Good Neighbor is a cynical ploy to get Syrians on Israel’s side, a battle for hearts and minds. It can’t work effectively. The Golan is a region the UK and almost the entire world officially recognize to be part of Syria. Nobody will understand that better than the Syrians.

The Patel scandal forced the UK to reiterate that it does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army but the extraordinary revelations of the past week raised the question: Who is setting British foreign policy, especially on sensitive issues such as the Middle East? The key question about Patel’s motives was whether she just assumed she could defy normal procedures or did she actually believe that in these meetings she could further plans to get the British government to devote some of its considerable foreign aid budget to supporting an Israeli policy being conducted on occupied Arab land?

Under normal circumstances, Patel may have escaped this scandal with a reprimand and her job intact. But these aren’t normal times in London. With the budget just days away and Brexit talks deadlocked ahead of a make-or-break EU summit next month, the latest cabinet resignation added to Theresa May’s growing list of scandals. Patel’s departure will throw May’s Conservative government into further chaos after the sudden resignation last week of her defense secretary who stood down after becoming embroiled in a growing Westminster harassment scandal. Adding to the turmoil, his de facto deputy was forced to deny allegations at the weekend that lurid material was found on his office computer. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was forced to backtrack over comments he made about a British-Iranian woman who is jailed in Iran accused of espionage.

If May had let Patel remain, it would have been yet another sign of her lack of discipline over her unruly ministers.

Patel did offer a “fulsome apology” in her resignation letter, and May offered a firm rebuke to the departing minister. She also made clear in her reply that she would have sacked Patel if she had not resigned. But Patel should have been fired. Resignation provided the chance for this very pro-Israel minister from the UK cabinet to leave the government honorably even though her sojourn to Israel was anything but.