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Trump praises Israel's border walls after rough patch in US-Israel relations

US President Donald Trump adjusts his translation ear piece during a joint press conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House on May 18, 2017 in Washington, DC
JIM WATSON (AFP)
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly 'buried chances' of embassy move say US officials

In what’s been a bumpy road ahead of US president Donald Trump’s Israel visit next week, Trump lavished the US ally with praise, again commending its border walls during a join press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House on Thursday.

In his persistence of building an expansive border wall between the US and Mexico, a main platform during his presidential campaign, he has often cited Israel as an example of success.

“Walls work, just ask Israel,” he said in the Thursday press conference, although he did not specify which border he was referring to.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed with Trump on the issue in the past, ruffling feathers with Mexico.

“President Trump is right,” the Israeli leader tweeted in January, “I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea."

Netanyahu was apparently referring to the border fence on the Egyptian border, which the government says has stemmed the flow of people from Africa entering the country illegally.

SAUL LOEB (AFP/File)

But, the relationship between the two allies hit a rough patch this week, just as preparations have been underway for Trump’s first presidential visit.

Israel was apparently the source of the highly classified information that Donald Trump was accused of divulging in a meeting with Russian officials on Monday, a current and a former White House official familiar with the situation revealed to the New York Times on Tuesday.

The Israeli officials told BuzzFeed that Trump's sharing the information with Russians had Israel's "worst fears confirmed," when it came to sensitive intelligence.

The bombshell revelation initially sparked speculations that Israel may cancel Trump's upcoming trip, but both sides have reassured that deep security ties between the two countries remain intact.

US-Israel relations hit another bump just a day prior when a senior member of a US delegation preparing for the President’s upcoming visit reportedly snapped that the Western Wall is "not your territory" and is “part of the West Bank” while discussing details of the president's visit to the Jerusalem holy site with Israeli counterparts.

The remark came in response to an Israeli delegation's requests that Trump be joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu on his visit to the Jerusalem holy site.

Dana Shraga, Israeli Ministry of Defense

The White House avoided commenting on the issue of sovereignty over the Western Wall holy site in east Jerusalem, calling it a complex "policy decision."

During a daily press briefing on Tuesday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, said that "no Israeli leader will join President Trump to the Western Wall," as he offered details of the itinerary for the upcoming visit.

No sitting US president has ever visited the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, since American policy maintains that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be determined.

Fresh questions were raised over the White House's approach to the ultra-sensitive status of Jerusalem, with intensifying debate over whether the United States should move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ahead of Trump's visit to the region.

So far, it has been reported that the US President, who has walked back several times on claims that he supported the move, will hold off on making a decision.

Israel's Channel 2 reported on Thursday, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been a large source of frustration for US officials regarding the move, even blaming him for the decision to postpone the move.

According to the report, a Trump adviser told the Israeli team “If there is one person who buried the chances of moving the embassy it is Naftali Bennett,” the report said.

ABIR SULTAN (POOL/AFP/Archives)

Bennett has been outwardly vocal about the move, as well as his hard-right policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urging Netanyahu last week to reject a two-state solution.

The officials accused "some ministers" of not understanding the "sensitivity of the situation with regard to the embassy," reported Times of Israel.

“That’s not what we had expected from Israel in reference to an ally who always stands by [Israel’s] side, particularly this friendly administration,” said the sources close to the President.

Bennett defended the allegation saying he serves to protect Israel and not the Trump administration.

“Bennett welcomes Trump on his first visit to Israel,” a spokesperson for the minister said. “However, at the same time he protects Israel’s security and guards its policies.”

“Bennett was not elected to protect the White House’s interests, but the best interests of Israelis," the spokesperson added, according to the Times.

Netanyahu has remained silent, eschewing the spat.

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