A senior Palestinian Authority official said Saturday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has “no regrets” over his decision to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres on Jerusalem on Friday, despite coming under some criticism for the move.
The unnamed official told Israel Radio that Abbas himself took the decision to attend due to his esteem for the ninth Israeli president, and not because of any external pressure to do so.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands and talked briefly with Abbas before the ceremony, thanking him for coming. 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.”
The Palestinian official said the Palestinians had expected Netanyahu to appreciate the gesture and not ignore it in his eulogy, given its exceptional nature. But, he added, this issue aside the Palestinian delegation had been given a respectful welcome at the service.
He said the PA president’s attendance sent to a powerful message to the Israeli public: There is a Palestinian partner who seeks peace, and Abbas is serious about pursuing it.
Abbas sat in the front row at the funeral ceremony at the national cemetery on Mount Herzl, along with Netanyahu, Obama, President Reuven Rivlin and Britain’s Prince Charles. He was flanked by European Council President Donald Tusk and Hungarian President Viktor Orban.
Abbas’s Fatah party backed the gesture, saying it was a “message of peace” whose aim was to show the world that the Palestinians are a peace-loving people.
But Fatah central committee member and former Palestinian intelligence officer Tawfik Tirawi did express his opposition to Abbas’s presence at the funeral, Army Radio reported Saturday.
“If they had asked me, I would have said clearly: I am in principle against participation, as this was the funeral of Zionist who was soaked from head to toe in the blood of our Palestinian nation and other Arab peoples,” Tirawi said.
He called Peres the architect of Israel’s nuclear program, which he said was designed to deter any plan to return to the homeland and liberate it from occupation.
On Friday, the PA suspended a senior official for criticizing Abbas’s attendance.
Osama Mansour, who is a military liaison with Israel, posted comments on Facebook in which he blasted the president for going to the funeral in Jerusalem.
“There are no personal relationships or friendships with the occupier, so long as he continues his bullying policy against our people,” Mansour wrote, according to the Ynet news website.
The PA president’s participation was also 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.
After years without meeting, Netanyahu and Abbas shook hands and briefly chatted at the funeral.
“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.”
Abbas’s attendance was approved by Israeli authorities a day before the funeral, and he and the Palestinian delegation drove to the cemetery from Ramallah.