MEXICO CITY — The fact that the presidents of three important countries in Latin America publicly embraced Israel over the last four days is a sign of the Jewish state’s rising stature in the region and the world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Mexico City on Thursday, wrapping up his visit to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.
“The leaders themselves are the best seismographs,” Netanyahu told reporters in a briefing after a four-hour meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Los Pinos presidential residence. “They understand that not only does the public not have a problem with their public embrace of Israel, but it has benefits. There is a lot of sympathy [for Israel],” he said.
Netanyahu, who characterized Israel’s relationship with Mexico as a “great friendship,” said that he was not surprised by the warmth of his reception in Latin America. He said that what did surprise him was the lack of protest and criticism in the media, especially since he was warned beforehand that Israel has a problem in Latin America.
“Maybe in Venezuela,” he quipped, but not in the countries he visited.
Netanyahu was scheduled to leave Mexico for New York on Friday, where he is slated to meet US President Donald Trump on Monday, and address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
A tweet Netanyahu posted in January that was interpreted as support for Trump’s desire to build a wall with Mexico and infuriated the Mexican government and the Jewish community did not come up when the prime minister and Peña Nieto held a press conference, with one senior Israeli diplomatic saying that the two countries have “turned the page” on the issue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuand wfie Sara at an event for the Jewish community in Mexico City, September 14, 2017Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuand wfie Sara at an event for the Jewish community in Mexico City, September 14, 2017
It also did not prevent hundreds of members of the 45,000-strong Jewish community from giving Netanyahu a rousing ovation when he spoke Thursday at the local Jewish center.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Peña Nieto thanked the Jewish community for their “valuable contributions to the economic, social and cultural development of the country.” He also said that they were an important source of employment for the country.
Not only did Peña Nieto not mention the tweet about the wall during brief remarks he gave after meeting Netanyahu, but – like Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes – he also did not mention the Palestinian issue.
Netanyahu said that the Palestinians would not have come up in his meeting with the Mexican president had he not brought it up himself.
“I raised the Palestinian issue,” he said, explaining that he then gave a brief lecture to Peña Nieto and nearly half his cabinet at the meeting on how neither the conflict with the Palestinians nor the settlements were at the heart of the problems plaguing the Middle East.
During the meeting the two sides agreed to upgrade and modernize the free trade agreement between them which is outdated and does not provide any provisions for new developments such as e-trade.
They also signed agreements governing cooperation between the countries’ two space programs, tourism, aviation, and in the areas of international development.
Peña Nieto asked Israel to become involved in development programs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, in what is called Central America’s Northern Triangle. Mexico and the US are cooperating in providing development aid there in an effort to stabilize the economy and prevent migration northward.
During his statement alongside Peña Nieto, Netanyahu apologized for this trip being the first time an Israeli prime minister ever visited the country, saying this was “an unpardonable lapse, but we want pardon.”
Netanyahu said that this visit corrected that “historic lapse, because Mexico is a great country. It’s one of the world’s great economies, it’s a great nation, a great people, a great culture. We want to be close, even closer to Mexico, and this is what this meeting signifies.”