President Reuven Rivlin and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, exchange greetings at the funeral of Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in September..
(photo credit: COURTESY OF TOMER REICHMAN)
President Reuven Rivlin stepped in Tuesday to put an end to a brewing diplomatic crisis with Mexico, apologizing to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto for any offense caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tweet Saturday night regarding border walls.
“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 told his Mexican counterpart in a rare instance where he was put into the role of having to rectify a situation caused by the prime minister.
“The security situation in Israel, and the entire Middle East, brought us to the important decision to build a wall on our border,” Rivlin said. “We have no intention to compare 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 said that he was sure that “nobody intended to compare between the situation of Israel and the situation of Mexico – rather, this was a misunderstanding. The ties between us are so very strong and important, and we must leave behind us any such misunderstanding.”
The current crisis was triggered when Netanyahu posted the following tweet Saturday night: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
Mexico rebukes Israel over Netanyahu wall tweet
This tweet, Netanyahu has since clarified, was a response to comments Trump made about Israel’s policies on border walls during a Fox interview on Thursday.
“The wall is necessary,” Trump said of his plan to build a barrier along the Mexican border. “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.”
Netanyahu’s tweet enraged Mexico, which demanded an apology.
Rather than apologizing, Netanyahu clarified the tweet on a couple of occasions, most recently Tuesday morning at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv where he said he wanted to take the opportunity to “explain or clarify what I did and did not say in my tweet the other night.
“I did point out the remarkable success of Israel’s security fence, but I did not comment about US-Mexico relations,” he said.
Netanyahu said Israel and Mexico have good relations, and that “our ties are much stronger than any passing disagreement or misunderstanding.”
He added that he has had a “long, fruitful and very friendly relationship” with Nieto, adding that “it will continue.”
According to officials, when Netanyahu’s statement failed to satisfy the Mexicans, it was decided to bring Rivlin into the picture. The idea of a Rivlin-Nieto phone call was first raised on Sunday, quashed on Monday and then revived again on Tuesday, when Netanyahu’s clarification proved insufficient for Mexico City.
The unusual step of having Rivlin apologize for something Netanyahu said, rather than the prime minister apologizing himself, triggered speculation that Netanyahu’s original tweet was designed as a gesture toward Trump that he did not want to back away from.
Diplomatic officials, however, dismissed that speculation, saying Netanyahu simply did not believe there was anything in that tweet that he needed to apologize for, since it was not a reference to the wall with Mexico, but, rather, Israel’s wall with Egypt.
Nieto, according to a readout of the phone call released by Rivlin’s office, said that he was aware of Netanyahu’s explanation, but that it was inevitable that the tweet would be interpreted in Mexico the way it was, which was as a reference to the US wall planned for its border.
“This, of course, obviously generated various reactions in Mexico.
I am certain that you are aware of these reactions,” he told Rivlin.
Nieto also told Rivlin that “Mexico wants to continue being a good friend of Israel,” and said that this conversation, and the clarifications given, “would help the two countries continue their important relationship.”
The Mexican president met Rivlin in September when he was in Israel attending Shimon Peres’s funeral.