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Israel, Mexico presidents to speak to smooth over rift

Two countries work to get past crisis over Netanyahu tweet praising border walls

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during an event hosting Israeli ambassadors to European countries, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks during an event hosting Israeli ambassadors to European countries, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday was set to speak to his Mexican counterpart in a bid to smooth over a diplomatic rift caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Twitter praise for building walls to keep out refugees.

Rivlin’s planned phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto came a day after Israel’s Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Peled met with Mexico’s deputy foreign minister as part of efforts to soothe Mexico City’s wounded response to the prime minister’s post. The tweet was perceived as offering an endorsement of US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Netanyahu on Saturday posted a Twitter message that read: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” The prime minister later denied the post had anything to do with Mexico.

Trump made construction of a controversial anti-immigration wall between the US and Mexico a key plank of his election campaign. One of his first acts after inauguration as president was to sign an executive order to begin work on the wall.

In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Trump appeared to be touting Israel’s border know-how as an example of a successful deterrent to unlawful entry into a country.

“The wall is necessary,” Trump said. “That’s not just politics, and yet it is good for the heart of the nation in a certain way, because people want protection and a wall protects. All you’ve got to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”

A truck drives near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP/Christian Torres)
A truck drives near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP/Christian Torres)

On Saturday, Mexican officials phoned Jerusalem and angrily demanded a clarification on the tweet.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray reportedly called on Netanyahu to apologize, saying his comments “felt like an act of aggression.”

“We hope that Israel’s government will be sensitive enough to correct Netanyahu’s statement,” Videgaray said.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a communique that it had expressed its “profound surprise, rejection and disappointment in the prime minister’s message on Twitter” to Israel’s ambassador. “Mexico is Israel’s friend and should be treated as such.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a meeting with Likud party members at the Knesset on January 30, 2017. AFP/ MENAHEM KAHANA)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a meeting with Likud party members at the Knesset on January 30, 2017. AFP/ MENAHEM KAHANA)

On Monday, Netanyahu denied that his tweet had constituted support for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. He told the weekly Likud faction meeting he had merely been responding to Trump’s praise for the Egypt border in the social media post, which was later retweeted by the US president. “Who even mentioned Mexico?” asked the prime minister.

Backtracking after Mexican officials demanded a clarification, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry stressed Saturday that Netanyahu was not commenting on US-Mexican relations.

“[Netanyahu] referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share,” spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon wrote on Twitter. “We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations.”

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