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Rivlin says sorry, but Mexico says ties ‘hurt’ by PM’s support of Trump wall

In call to Mexican counterpart, Israel’s president apologizes, claims there’s been a misunderstanding, hopes issue is now resolved

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto arrives at the Lima Convention Center to speak at the APEC CEO Summit in Lima, Peru, on November 19, 2016. (AFP/Ernesto Benavides)
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto arrives at the Lima Convention Center to speak at the APEC CEO Summit in Lima, Peru, on November 19, 2016. (AFP/Ernesto Benavides)

President Reuven Rivlin apologized Tuesday to his Mexican counterpart over any hurt caused by a tweet sent out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that seemed to express support for a wall on the US border, seeking to smooth out a diplomatic rift sparked by the 140-character missive.

In a phone call between the two heads of state, Mexican President Enrique Peňa Nieto said bilateral ties between Mexico and Israel had been “hurt” by the Twitter comment, rebuffing claims by Netanyahu that relations with Mexico remained strong.

Officials in Jerusalem have been on the defensive since Mexico reacted furiously to the Saturday night tweet by Netanyahu. The prime minister tweeted that US president Donald Trump’s wall proposal was “great” citing Israel’s own success with a wall on the Egyptian border that stemmed illegal immigration.

On Monday, Netanyahu said he never mentioned Mexico in the tweet and that he believes Israel-Mexico “ties are much stronger than any passing disagreement or misunderstanding.”

Rivlin told Nieto that the diplomatic tiff was caused by a “misunderstanding” and expressed hopes the two countries could continue to have a positive relationship.

“I am sorry for any hurt caused as a result of this misunderstanding, but we must remember that we are talking about a misunderstanding, and I am sure that we can put the issue behind us,” Rivlin said, according to a statement from his office.

In what was described as an “extended and warm conversation,” Nieto thanked the Rivlin for his willingness to resolve the situation, and told the president that Mexico “is more than willing” to maintain its close ties with Israel.

“I do want to tell you that Mexico is more than willing to maintain this mutual cooperation, cooperation for us to continue working closely, with all types of cooperation,” he told Rivlin..

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)

“Unfortunately this cooperation has been hurt because of this tweet,” Nieto said.

The Mexican president added that while he was aware of the explanation given for the Tweet, Netanyahu’s remark “obviously generated various reactions in Mexico, I am certain that you are aware of these reactions.”

Rivlin explained the decision to build a border fence along Israel’s border with Egypt was driven by regional security concerns, and was not comparable to the migration from Mexico to the US.

“We have no intention to compare between the security situation in the State of Israel, and the steps forced upon us, to the situation of any of our friends around the world,” the president stressed during the phone call.

Trump on Thursday announced he was going ahead with his plan for the US-Mexico border wall, which he maintained Mexico would pay for, despite the country’s insistence that it will not foot the bill. Nieto nixed his planned January 31 meeting with Trump after the latter tweeted that the meeting should be canceled if Mexico won’t pay for the construction.

In an interview with Fox News the same day, Trump appeared to tout Israel’s West Bank security barrier as an example of a successful deterrent to unlawful entry into a country. Israel built the barrier — a combination of fence, concrete wall and sophisticated sensors — in response to the massive wave of deadly Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada at the start of the millennium, with suicide bombers traveling the short distances into Israel to carry out deadly attacks.

Israel saw a dramatic decline in suicide bombings after the barrier was constructed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“The wall is necessary,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “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.”

On Saturday, Netanyahu tweeted enthusiastically: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” Netanyahu added the Israeli and US flags to his tweet.

He subsequently asserted that the tweet had nothing to do with Mexico.

On Monday, the prime minister told the weekly Likud faction meeting he was merely responding to Trump’s praise for the Egypt border in the social media post, which was later retweeted by the US president. Pundits, said Netanyahu, later made the issue about Israel-Mexico ties. “Who even mentioned Mexico?” said the prime minister.

The barrier along Israel’s Egyptian border is not a concrete wall as Trump is planning to build on the US-Mexico border, but rather a system of wire fencing and sensors.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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