In death, Peres brings Israelis, Palestinians together

Josef Federman
Associated Press

Jerusalem — Even in death, Shimon Peres managed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

With peace efforts in a deep freeze, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made his first trip to Jerusalem in six years to attend Peres’ funeral Friday, shaking hands and making small talk with his longtime adversary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and challenging the government’s narrative that he is not a reliable partner for peace.

It was a fitting tribute to Peres, who was the mastermind of the historic Oslo interim peace accord with the Palestinians in 1993. Despite years of setbacks, he remained Israel’s most outspoken advocate for peace until his death.

Peres was laid to rest Friday by dozens of world leaders, including President Barack Obama, who recalled a seven-decade political career that personified the history of Israel by building its military while also pushing it toward peace.

Obama told the mourners, made up of delegations from 70 countries, that Peres had told him Jews shouldn’t rule over another people and that Palestinians were entitled to dignity and self-determination.

“Just as he understood the practical necessity of peace, Shimon believed that Israel’s exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith,” Obama said. “From the very first day we are against slaves and masters,’" he quoted Peres, the last of Israel’s founding generation of leaders, as having told him.

The Oslo peace process is in tatters after two decades of on-again, off-again negotiations and sporadic bouts of violence. The sides have only held two brief, failed rounds of negotiations since Netanyahu took office in 2009. Abbas and Netanyahu rarely speak and spend more time accusing one another of hindering peace prospects.

Friday’s encounter was brief but cordial. As Abbas arrived, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greeted him. Mrs. Netanyahu invited the Palestinian leader to come back for a visit.

“Long time. Long time,” Abbas said.

“Thank you for coming,” Netanyahu responded. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

With the breakdown of peace talks, and during a wave of low-level violence over the past year, Abbas and Netanyahu have become bitter nemeses. At home, Abbas also faced great internal pressure to skip the event.

Palestinian officials said Abbas, who signed the Oslo accord at the White House with Peres in 1993, felt a duty to honor him.

“Our participation in Peres’ funeral today was a message of peace to the Israeli people,” said Hussein al-Sheikh, a Palestinian Cabinet minister who joined Abbas’ delegation.