Pa­tel has gone, but No 10 still has se­ri­ous ques­tions to an­swer

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY STEPHEN POL­LARD

PRITI PA­TEL has been a long­stand­ing friend of Is­rael, and a very good Sec­re­tary of State for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment.

One of her early moves was to freeze part of the DfID’s aid con­tri­bu­tion to the Pales­tinian Author­ity over con­cerns that it was be­ing used to fund salar­ies for con­victed Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists. In that con­text, her de­par­ture from the Cabi­net is un­doubt­edly a blow.

But it is a self-in­flicted blow. No one forced her to hold unau­tho­rised meet­ings in Is­rael; no one forced her to ig­nore the min­is­te­rial code.

That said, the longer-term im­pli­ca­tions of this af­fair do not con­cern Ms Pa­tel. They con­cern its wider im­pact on Jewish com­mu­nal re­la­tions with gov­ern­ment and the (en­tirely spu­ri­ous) cred­i­bil­ity the cir­cum­stances of her de­par­ture give to con­spir­acy the­o­ries sur­round­ing “ne­far­i­ous” Is­raeli and Jewish in­flu­ence.

But there is also the mat­ter of Num­ber 10. On Tues­day night, I wrote on the JC’s web­site that some­thing did not add up about Down­ing Street’s claim that it had no idea about Priti Pa­tel’s meet­ings with se­nior Is­raelis.

As I put it: “Well be­fore last week’s James Lan­dale scoop about Ms Pa­tel’s meet­ings with Is­raeli politi­cians, I was told very mat­ter of factly that there would soon be an an­nounce­ment of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the UK and Is­rael over aid in Africa — that we would di­vert some of our aid money to the Is­raelis to fund some of their aid work there. I was told that it had been signed off be­tween DfID and Num­ber 10, but that the FCO had kicked off be­cause it felt its toes were be­ing trod­den on.”

After the story was pub­lished I was con­tacted by a re­li­able source who I have known for many years, whose sober judg­ment I have of­ten re­lied on and who has al­ways been en­tirely ac­cu­rate in his in­for­ma­tion. He told me that although Ms Pa­tel had clearly messed up and had to go, the real story was about Num­ber 10.

In its state­ments, Num­ber 10 in­sists that the first Mrs May knew of Ms Pa­tel’s meet­ings with Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was last Fri­day. But my source — sub­se­quently con­firmed by a sec­ond, un­con­nected source — told me that Mrs May knew in full about Ms Pa­tel’s meet­ing with the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter.

The two women had met in Septem­ber, prior to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly, and at that meet­ing the Prime Min­is­ter was en­thu­si­as­tic about Ms Pa­tel’s plan for UK aid to be spent with Is­rael — a plan that had emerged fol­low­ing her meet­ing with Mr Ne­tanyahu.

On Mon­day, Ms Pa­tel is­sued a state­ment out­lin­ing 12 unau­tho­rised meet­ings in Is­rael. What fi­nally tipped her over the edge was her ap­par­ent fail­ure to re­port a 13th meet­ing, with Is­raeli For­eign Of­fice of­fi­cial Yu­val Rotem in New York. But my sources — sub­se­quently con­firmed by a third source on Wed­nes­day — told me that Num­ber 10 had in­deed been told by Ms Pa­tel about that meet­ing, and had specif­i­cally asked her not to in­clude it in her state­ment.

I do not spec­u­late about the rea­sons be­hind any of this. Frankly, I find it dif­fi­cult to fathom what has been go­ing on. But it is a tru­ism with most scan­dals that the real fall-out comes from the cover-up.

At the very least, there are se­ri­ous ques­tions for Num­ber 10 to an­swer about who knew what, and when — in­clud­ing the PM.

My source said Mrs May knew in full about the meet­ing with Mr Ne­tanyahu’

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