LONDON: The UK’s international development minister Priti Patel faced calls for her resignation yesterday over her failure to disclose meetings she conducted with senior members of the Israeli government including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The minister did not turn up to answer questions from MPs in the UK parliament on Tuesday, with the House of Commons told she was traveling to Africa for a pre-arranged official trip.
Katie Osamor, shadow minister for international development, told parliament that it was “simply unacceptable” that the minister was not present. She called for either an investigation into Patel’s conduct or that she should do the “decent thing” and resign.
“It is hard to think of a more black and white case of breaking the code of ministerial conduct,” she said.
Patel’s conduct has also been criticized by a senior Palestinian envoy, according to a report in the Evening Standard.
Manuel Hassassian, ambassador at the Palestinian Mission in the UK, told the London newspaper that the undisclosed talks were of “great concern to Palestinians.”
A Downing Street spokesperson also confirmed on Tuesday that following her meetings, Patel had sought to send aid money to the Israeli army to assist them with humanitarian efforts in the Golan Heights.
“The secretary of state did discuss potential ways to provide medical support for Syrian refugees who are wounded who cross into the Golan for aid,” the spokesperson said, adding that the Israeli army runs hospitals in the area to care for Syrians wounded in the war.
The spokesperson confirmed that the UK policy had not changed and that it does not provide financial support to the Israeli army.
The UK does not officially recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory since it was annexed in 1967.
Foreign office minister Alistair Burt told MPs in the Commons that Patel’s suggestion regarding Israeli aid was rejected as would not be “appropriate.”
Patel apologized on Monday for not giving the foreign office advance warning of her 12 meetings she conducted during what she described as a family holiday to Israel in August.
She also apologized for implying in quotes published last Friday that UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was aware of the trip in advance.
Patel visited Israel between Aug. 3 and 25 on a trip she paid for herself, according to a statement from the Department for International Development. The Foreign Office was not aware of her visit until she was in the country.
A Conservative peer, Lord Polak, helped organize the meetings and attended most of them. Patel has now published a list of everyone she met.