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Saying history ‘complicated,’ entire Arab party to skip Peres funeral

Joint List head Ayman Odeh calls Peres part of ‘tragedies for my people,’ says it’s most respectful to stay silent

The Knesset Honor Guard carries the coffin of Former Israeli President Shimon Peres ahead of the ceremony held at the Knesset square where the public will be invited to pay their last respects before his burial, in Jerusalem, on September 29, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Knesset Honor Guard carries the coffin of Former Israeli President Shimon Peres ahead of the ceremony held at the Knesset square where the public will be invited to pay their last respects before his burial, in Jerusalem, on September 29, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Members of the Knesset’s Joint List Arab faction will not attend the Friday funeral of former president Shimon Peres, which is expected to draw dignitaries from around the world including ministers from neighboring Arab countries and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

MKs from the 13-strong list — the Knesset’s sole Arab party — have been mostly silent since Peres, 93, died from complications following a stroke Wednesday, underlining general Arab animosity toward Israel, particularly at a time when the peace process Peres helped launch two decades ago has collapsed and anger is high at the hard-line policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told Army Radio on Thursday that the party had not issued an official statement of condolence and was choosing to remain silent “out of respect.”

“I can tell you that it is complicated. It is not simple,” he said.

On his Twitter account, Odeh wrote in Hebrew 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.”

Peres gained international recognition for his Nobel Peace Prize, and late in life, became a virtual celebrity as he traveled around the globe preaching a message of peace and coexistence.

While eulogies poured in from the West, reactions in the Arab world, where Peres had a much more checkered legacy, have been largely absent. Many in the Arab world are deeply critical of Peres because of his role in building his country’s defense arsenal, supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank and waging war in Lebanon.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II sent his condolences to Israel on Thursday over the passing of Peres the previous day. A senior Jordanian minister, Jawad Anani, will represent Amman at the funeral.

The king wrote in a telegram to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday that Peres’s “contributions toward achieving peace and security in the region are more relevant than ever before.”

The king said that “it is vital that the voices of reason prevail and the advocates of peace continue to lead the way.”

Egypt said Thursday it would send Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to the funeral, but President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi would not attend.

When asked whether he would attend the funeral, Odeh said, “I will not take part in this celebration of 1948, of the nuclear reactor. I think all of those events were tragedies for other people, for my nation in 1948.”

Ayman Odeh at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 15, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ayman Odeh at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 15, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Odeh praised Peres for “forging a path to peace while building a partnership with the representatives of the Arab community and afterward 90% of them voted for him.”

However, he also called him a “man of security, occupation and settlement construction who introduced nuclear [facilities] to the Middle East and, unfortunately, was also a president who chose to support Netanyahu and his policies.”

Odeh went on to cite the April 1996 Qana attack, when Israel Defense Forces artillery fire on a UN compound in the southern Lebanese village killed 106 civilians.

Peres was prime minister at the time, and Odeh told Army Radio that he held him responsible for the “massacre.”

Arab-Israeli Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Arab-Israeli Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The comments echoed, albeit more softly, comments made MK Basel Ghattas, also of the Joint List, who sparked a firestorm when he criticized Peres two weeks ago after he first suffered a major stroke.

Ghattas said Peres “was one of the pillars of the Zionist colonial project, and one of the most despicable, cruel, radical and long-lived [of its leadership].”

Peres “was the most damaging and calamitous for the Palestinian nation and other Arab peoples,” Ghattas said.

Though he served as defense minister and was considered a hawk in his early years in politics, rejecting any compromise with hostile Arab states, Peres later became the face of the country’s peace movement, carrying on the legacy of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who was his partner in working on the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

Peres had said he was converted to dovishness after 1977, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.

But according to Ghattas, Peres only managed to “portray himself as a dove” to the point that he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994.

“So let us at least remember his true essence in his death, as a tyrant directly responsible for crimes and war crimes directed against us,” wrote Ghattas, adding “our blood covers him from head to toe.”

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres (right) sits in his office with Zouheir Bahloul, January 2, 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres (right) sits in his office with Zouheir Bahloul, January 2, 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

In contrast, Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab MK for the Labor party, wrote on Facebook of his sense of loss after the death of the former president. “I am pained by the passing of my partner on the journey, former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres.

“Today we have lost a great leader who worked for peace in every position he held,” he wrote. “He dreamed of a life shared by all who live in the state. Shimon left behind a huge vacuum. It is our duty to continue to dream and to work towards the hope for a better future. May his memory be blessed.”

Similarly, MK Issawi Frej (Meretz) wrote on Facebook, “There are many ways to remember Shimon Peres. I prefer to remember the Peres who pursued peace, the man who gave life to the vision of two states.” he wrote. “The Peres who was not afraid to work in partnership with the Palestinian leadership led by Arafat in order to advance a just peace.

“I prefer to remember the Peres who tried to bring to the entire region a vision of progress and of active partnership between nations and countries. The Shimon Peres who was overflowing with ideas for advancing equality between all citizens of Israel. The president for whom equality was one of the central values of his term.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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