Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to attend Peres' funeral: Officials

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and former Israeli president Shimon Peres shake hands as they meet at the World Economic Forum in Jordan in 2013.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and former Israeli president Shimon Peres shake hands as they meet at the World Economic Forum in Jordan in 2013. PHOTO: EPA
People pay their respects to former Israel president Shimon Peres during a memorial ceremony held for the public at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem on Sept 29, 2016.
People pay their respects to former Israel president Shimon Peres during a memorial ceremony held for the public at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem on Sept 29, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will attend the funeral of Israeli ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, Palestinian officials said on Thursday (Sept 29), in what will be a rare visit to Jerusalem.

Several Palestinian officials confirmed his participation at Friday’s funeral, speaking to AFP condition of anonymity.

An Israeli defence ministry unit also said Abbas had asked to coordinate his participation.

Making the short trip from nearby Ramallah, he will join leaders from across the world at the funeral, including US President Barack Obama.

Many Arabs and Palestinians have denounced Peres as a “war criminal” following his death, but Abbas hailed him as a “brave” partner for peace and sent his family condolences.

Abbas’ Fatah party dominates the Palestinian Authority, which is in power in the West Bank, though polls show most Palestinians want the 81-year-old to step down.

Officials for Fatah’s rival Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, have welcomed Peres’ death and called him “one of the last Israeli founders of occupation”.

Hamas said in a statement that “we condemn Mahmud Abbas’ condolences for Shimon Peres, and consider it disregards the blood of the martyrs and the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Abbas’ attendance at the funeral comes with peace efforts at a complete standstill since April 2014.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for direct negotiations with Abbas, but the Palestinians have pursued an international strategy, saying years of talks with the Israelis have not ended the occupation of the West Bank.

 

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Abbas’ attendance raises the possibility, however slight, that the two could meet.

The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu is thought to have been in 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.

Both men have said they were open to meeting in Moscow in talks being pursued by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Netanyahu has stressed that any such meeting must be without preconditions.

Palestinian leaders have said a meeting would go nowhere without a halt to Israeli settlement building, the release of prisoners and a deadline for the end of the occupation of the West Bank.

France has also been pursuing its own peace initiative, with the idea of holding an international conference on the conflict before the end of the year.

The Palestinians strongly support France’s international approach, but the Israelis reject it.

Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in negotiating the Oslo accords, which envisioned an independent Palestinian state.

Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist opposed to Oslo in 1995. Arafat did not attend his funeral for security reasons, but he visited Rabin’s wife in Tel Aviv.

Peres died on Wednesday at age 93 after a major stroke.

While those in the West and within Israel hailed him as a peacemaker, many Palestinians view him very differently.

They have cited his involvement in successive Arab-Israeli wars, the occupation of Palestinian territory and his support for settlement building before his work on Oslo.

He was also prime minister in 1996 when more than 100 civilians were killed while sheltering at a UN peacekeepers’ base in the Lebanese village of Qana fired upon by Israel.