US Vice President Joe Biden, Czech Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok and the foreign ministers of Australia and Germany are among the top foreign officials scheduled to attend the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon on Monday. The list of dignitaries includes senior ministers and top officials from 19 countries, but not a single head of state.
The countries sending senior government officials to the funeral roughly correspond with a list of Israel’s closest allies on the international stage. No senior officials from the two Arab states with which Israel has diplomatic relations — Jordan and Egypt — are scheduled to attend.
“Sharon had a bad name in the Arab world,” a diplomatic official said, adding that he was not surprised about the absence of representatives of Arab or Turkish officials. “It’s just like with a regular shiva — your friends are coming, others aren’t. That’s normal.”
The Czech Republic — the only European country that voted against Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in 2012 — will be represented by Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok and Defense Minister Vlastimil Picek. Canada, widely considered Israel’s staunchest ally, is sending Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. Australia, also one of Jerusalem’s closest friends, decided to send Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose two-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories was scheduled weeks in advance, will land Sunday night in Tel Aviv and represent Berlin at the Knesset ceremony the following morning. “The last fight of Ariel Sharon has come to an end,” Steinmeier said early Sunday. “Literally from the beginning he was an unfailing defender of his beloved home country Israel.”
Other top dignitaries expected are former UK prime minister and Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair; Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay; Romania Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea; Greece Defense Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos; Spain Home Affairs Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz; Cyprus Defense Minister of Fotis Fotiou; France Minister Delegate for French Nationals Abroad Hélène Conway-Mouret; Russia State Duma Chairman Sergey Naryshkin, Singapore Second Foreign Minister Grace Fu; and UK Minister of State for the Middle East Hugh Robertson.
Belgium is sending a “senior minister” and the Netherlands a former prime minister, but as of press time it was unclear who. Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders is also scheduled to attend the funeral, as is a group of US congressmen and one of three Italian deputy foreign ministers. The arrival of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin has yet to be confirmed.
Japan, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and other important states with which Israel has diplomatic relations are not sending any senior government officials.
Despite the absence of heads of state, Jerusalem is not disappointed by the list of dignitaries expected to pay their last respect to the late Israeli prime minister, a government official told The Times of Israel. Sharon cannot be compared to Nelson Mandela or Margaret Thatcher, leaders whose funerals drew impressive lists of VIPs, the official said.
Even within Israel, it is impossible to compare state funerals to assess whether the list of visitors for Sharon is long or short. Not a single foreign delegation arrived for the funeral of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who died in July 2012. Yet for Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated while in office in November 1995, a long list of world leaders traveled to Israel, including three US presidents, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Hussein, as well as senior ministers from Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Turkey and some 70 other states from all continents.
Sharon will be laid to rest Monday at 2:30 p.m. at his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev. The funeral will be both a state and a military ceremony, a reflection of his twin careers.