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Israel puzzled by Patel affair

In the Israeli system, Cabinet ministers often have informal meetings without civil service minders

    Priti Patel
    Priti Patel Photo: Getty

    Maybe the most pro-Israel member of the Cabinet, Priti Patel changed UK aid to the Palestinian Authority to stop British money funding jailed terrorists’ salaries.

    As news of her various meetings with Israeli officials broke over the last week, Ms Patel seems naïve at best for not reporting with the Foreign Office.

    Israelis are perplexed by the row. In the freewheeling Israeli system, Cabinet ministers often have informal meetings without civil service minders.

    One Israeli government source told me he didn't realise that the British civil service was so powerful that even Secretaries of State had to report to it. Another political source said that the Patel meetings seemed unremarkable and that similar meetings with ministers from other governments happen all the time.

    When I suggested that she might be forced to resign, both sources were taken aback. 

    But it was the steady drip of new information about the content and scale of her meetings that made it impossible for Ms Patel to get ahead of the story.

    Will this damage UK/Israel relations? My view is that it’s unlikely. Government ministers will be a little more cautious in their dealings with their Israeli counterparts, and more likely to follow the line of the Foreign Office’s mandarins.

    However, this is one scandal where nobody is blaming Israel itself. Ms Patel’s "secret" meetings were tweeted out by Gilad Erdan and Yair Lapid, who had nothing to hide. Ms Patel’s failure to follow protocol shouldn’t scare off other Conservatives, who’ll probably use the proper channels on their next Israel trip.

    With Ms Patel’s departure, the Jewish community has lost a friend in a friendly Cabinet. Hopefully, she will keep fighting for Israel from the backbenches.

    Arieh Kovler is Jerusalem-based political consultant and writer

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