WASHINGTON — In an extraordinarily tense exchange Tuesday with Democratic leaders, President Donald Trump threatened to shut down the government unless his proposed wall between the United States and Mexico is funded, and invoked an Israeli wall to defend his position.
“I am proud to shut down the government over border security,” Trump said in the White House Oval Office meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the speaker-designate, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the minority leader of the Senate.
“If you really want to find out how effective a wall is, just ask Israel,” Trump said in an extraordinary exchange in front of the press. “[It’s] 99.9 percent effective and our wall will be every bit as good as that, if not better.”
It’s not clear which wall Trump was referring to, as Israel has built or is in the midst of building walls and high-tech fences on several of its borders.
The West Bank security barrier is a combination of walls and fences that Israel credits with stopping terrorist attacks.
Israel says the barrier, which it began building amid a wave of Palestinian terror attacks in 2002, is crucial for its security. Israel was battered by an onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombers, who killed hundreds of Israelis, in a stream of attacks from late 2000 to 2003. Palestinians see the barrier, which extends into about 7% of the West Bank, as a land grab of territory they want for a future state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cited another wall, along Israel’s southern border with Egypt, as a model for the United States in its bid to stop migrants from crossing without approval. The Israel-Egypt wall is a fraction of the size of Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico.
Israel built that barrier to stop a massive influx of African migrants, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea.
Israel also has a similar barrier along the border with the Hamas-rule Gaza Strip, which has become the site of weekly mass demonstrations and clashes, and is building another one along the northern border with Lebanon.
On both of these borders Israel has also had to put in place systems to prevent the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups from tunneling into Israel.
Democrats won the US House of Representatives in last month’s elections, and this was the first meeting since then between the Democratic leaders and the president.
The acrimony and raised voices were unusual for such a meeting. Pelosi told Trump repeatedly that he did not have the votes in either chamber to get approval for funding of his proposed wall.
She said she would call a government shutdown a “Trump shutdown.”
“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” said Schumer, who is Jewish. “We shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute, and you want to shut it down.”
Trump says a wall would keep criminals and terrorists among others from entering. Democrats and immigrants advocacy groups say Trump has massively overblown the risk posed by migrants.