After years without meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shook hands and briefly chatted at the funeral of former president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday.
The two exchanged polite greetings as world leaders gathered on Mount Herzl to pay their final respects to Israel’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning former president and prime minister.
“Long time, long time,” Abbas could be heard telling Netanyahu and his wife Sara in English. After Netanyahu shook hands with senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the prime minister thanked the two Palestinian officials for coming to the funeral, saying “It’s something that I appreciate very much, on behalf of our people, and on behalf of us.”
In another video uploaded to YouTube, Sara Netanyahu can be overheard telling Abbas she is “so happy” he came to the funeral.
“I am looking forward to having you at our house,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”
Abbas sat in the front row at the funeral ceremony, along with other dignitaries such as US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Britain’s Prince Charles. He was flanked by European Council President Donald Tusk and Hungarian President Viktor Orban.
Netanyahu didn’t mention Abbas during his eulogy for the former president, who died earlier this week at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. US President Barack Obama, however, did, saying Abbas’s presence was a reminder of the “unfinished business of peace.”
Abbas’s attendance was approved by Israeli authorities a day before the funeral, and he and the Palestinian delegation drove to the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem from Ramallah.
The PA president’s participation was met with criticism from his Fatah party’s rival, the Islamist terror group Hamas. The group, which rules the Gaza Strip and ousted the Fatah party in a violent coup in 2007, said that Abbas’s participation disregarded the blood of the Palestinian people.
Abbas’s Fatah party, meanwhile, defended the gesture, saying it was a “message of peace” whose aim was to show the world that the Palestinians are a peace-loving people.
While the Palestinian leader attended, Arab members of the Knesset’s Joint List said they wouldn’t participate in Peres’s funeral, with party leader Ayman Odeh saying it was because of the “complicated” relationship the former president had with the country’s Arab minority.
He said in a Hebrew tweet that “Peres’s memory in the Arab community is different from the narrative that has been spoken about over the past few days and I understand that it is difficult to hear such complicated messages in the moments after his death.”