Former Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres’ funeral in Jerusalem on Friday, September 30 was attended by world leaders past and present, including US President Barack Obama, former US President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Charles.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was joined in attendance by many Israeli figures, in addition to, notably, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other prominent dignitaries from the Arab world. An unnamed senior Palestinian Authority Official indicated that Abbas, who was seated in the front row, attended due to his esteem for Peres and that the President had “no regrets” about attending.
The event was notable for bringing Netanyahu and Abbas publicly face to face for the first time since 2015, before which the pair had reportedly not met for five years. The two chatted briefly and shook hands, with Abbas overheard telling Netanyahu, “long time, long time.” Abbas’ attendance has drawn condemnation from Hamas, which stated that “Mahmoud Abbas weeps over the departure of a terrorist,” as well as objections from elements within his own party Fatah who have criticized his attendance. Abbas was accompanied by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
While, controversially, many Israeli Arab leaders and Parliamentary members of the Arab Joint List did not attend the funeral, the Chairman of the Forum of Arab Local Councils Mazen Ghanem led an Arab delegation to the Peres Center for Peace this past week to express condolences, and commented:
“We have come here on behalf of all the [Arab] local authorities to participate in the deep grief of the Peres family. He believed in peace and equality, and the Peres Center for Peace says everything about this great person. We have come on behalf of Arab society-we undertake to continue to act in light of his actions for equality and peace.”
Another prominent leader in attendance was Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, highlighting the greater level of co-operation and dialogue recently evidenced in the past months and years between Egypt and Israel. King Abdullah of Jordan also sent a telegram of condolences.
Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, wrote on Twitter, “Rest in peace President Shimon Peres, a man of war and a man of the still elusive peace in the Middle East.”
Khalifa had only recently called on Israel to “react positively” to the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech to the United Nations, further stating, “We are entitled, and look forward, to the day when we see an independent state, living in peace and security, side by side with the State of Israel. I have no doubt whatsoever that the peoples of the region, including the Arabs and the Israelis, are eager for this day to come and look forward to this just and all-encompassing peace.”
In spite of many Arab countries boycotting the funeral, a number of national leaders were represented on the day, including Moroccan King Mohammed VI who sent his personal advisor and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who sent a deputy foreign minister.
The presence of these world leaders at the Funeral, and messages of condolence, while by no means representative of the large bloc of Arab nations not in attendance on the day, is nonetheless indicative of a wider, growing rapprochement between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbours. This has been evidenced as of late with low to senior level diplomatic meetings between dual representatives in semi-official or informal capacities serving as an acknowledgement of now burgeoning dialogue and co-operation.
Peres, who for so long has advocated Israel finding a new place in the region and the building of a “New Middle East” in which Israel would cooperate with and assist the economic development of its Arab neighbours, would no doubt have appreciated that his funeral itself served as a forum for continuing the existing cautious steps toward the vision he espoused.