Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic (unseen) as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem, in this January 24, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 January 2017
0

Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

JERUSALEM: When Benjamin Netanyahu sent a tweet in support of President Donald Trump's plan for a wall along the Mexican border, the Israeli prime minister can barely have expected it would be retweeted 40,000 times and cause a backlash at home and abroad.
Already under arguably the greatest pressure he has faced in his 11 years as prime minister, with police questioning him in two criminal probes into abuse of office, aligning himself with Trump may further undermine his standing.
The tweet, sent from his personal account shortly before the Jewish sabbath officially ended on Saturday, was very clear: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great Success. Great idea," Netanyahu wrote, appending pictures of the Israeli and US flags alongside each other.
Netanyahu was referring to a steel fence Israel has built along its border with Egypt, mainly to keep out migrants fleeing conflicts in Africa, including Somalis, Sudanese and Eritreans.
Israel has also built a steel-and-concrete barrier along its border with the occupied West Bank, which it says is to prevent militants crossing into Israel. Palestinians see the barrier, which has drawn international condemnation, as a land grab.
On the one hand, Trump's election as president was seen as a blessing for Netanyahu, the first time in four terms as prime minister that he would have a Republican in the White House.
As well as the Republicans being more ideologically aligned with Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, Trump has already shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to Israel's settlement building in the West Bank, which Barack Obama's administration frequently criticized, casting a pall over US-Israeli ties.
On the other hand, Trump is an unpredictable actor who in just nine days in office has sewn division across the US and shocked capitals around the world with a series of executive actions that are overturning decades of US policy.
The adverse reaction to Netanyahu's tweet, which was retweeted by Trump and drew far more attention than Netanyahu's tweets usually do as a result, appeared to be an early sign of the danger Netanyahu faces with aligning himself with Trump.
The Mexican government was outraged that he would involve himself in what it regards as a bilateral issue.
"The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu's message," the ministry said in a statement.
"Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its prime minister."
Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under Obama until nine days ago and still lives in the country, ditched diplomacy to question Netanyahu's motives in sending the tweet.
"Hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump's demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants," he wrote on Twitter, suggesting it may be linked to Trump's promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard."
Opposition politician Yair Lapid, who is ahead of Netanyahu in recent opinion polls, was also scathing. Whereas Lapid has shied away from criticizing Netanyahu over the police investigations into him, this time he didn't hold back: "A serious mistake by Netanyahu," Lapid tweeted in Hebrew.
"It is a needless declaration of war on Mexico and Hispanics and a rupture with the Democrats (including the majority of US Jews). It doesn't matter what we think of the wall, don't we have enough troubles of our own?"
Though Netanyahu has not deleted the tweet, Israel's Foreign Ministry immediately sought to nuance its content.
The prime minister was referring to Israel's "specific security experience", the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, adding: "We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations."


Ports deal is chance for Yemen peace talks, says UN envoy

Updated 58 min 5 sec ago
0

Ports deal is chance for Yemen peace talks, says UN envoy

  • Forces will initially be withdrawn from the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa
  • The second phase a withdrawal of 18 to 30 kilometers, depending on the location and fighters

NEW YORK: The expected pullout of forces from three key ports in Yemen provides an opportunity to move to the major goal of ending the four-year conflict that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the UN envoy for the war-battered country said on Tuesday.

Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that Yemen’s government and Houthi militias demonstrated that they are able to deliver on commitments they made in December in Stockholm by agreeing on the first phase of redeployment from the ports.

He said forces will initially be withdrawn from the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, beginning “possibly” on Tuesday or Wednesday. This will be followed by a pullout from the major port of Hodeidah and critical parts of the city that will allow access to the Red Sea Mills, a major UN storage facility holding enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, he said.

Griffiths called on the parties to fully implement the first phase and to agree on details of the second phase of the redeployment of forces, “which we hope will lead to the demilitarization” of Hodeidah, whose port handles about 70 percent of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

A UN official said the first phase involves pulling back several kilometers, and the second phase a withdrawal of 18 to 30 kilometers, depending on the location and fighters. In some places in Hodeidah city, the opposing forces are facing each other about 100 meters apart, the official said.

The UN is appealing for more than $4 billion to assist 15 million Yemenis this year and UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock implored donors to pledge generously at a conference next week in Geneva.