Palestinian President Abbas to Attend Shimon Peres' Funeral

Netanyahu approves Abbas' request to lead a delegation of Palestinian officials to honor the late president on Friday, senior official says.

Peres and Abbas
Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas greet each other at the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan. Reuters

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's request to attend the funeral of former President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior Israeli official said.

This will be Abbas' first official visit in Israel since September 2010, and the first time he will have shaken hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since last November.

Read more on Shimon Peres: Peres pursued peace for sake of Israel's values, and Palestinians' dignity | Hawk to dove, pro-settlements to pro-peace: Shimon Peres was it all | The countless contradictions of the late and great Shimon Peres | Obama, world leaders mourn Peres | Shimon Peres, the eternal immigrant | Peres' quixotic battle for Israeli-Palestinian peace | Drop the kitsch: Shimon Peres had a dark side, too | Peres, 1923-2016: an interactive timeline

Abbas' office sent on Thursday a request to coordinate his attendance at the funeral, said the spokeswoman for Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories. The request was passed on to the Prime Minister's Bureau.

Abbas is expected to be accompanied by a delegation of senior Palestinian officials, including Majid Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence; Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO; Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh; and Muhammad al-Madani, who is in charge of relations with Israeli society in the Palestinian Authority.

Madani's entry permit to Israel has been revoked some three months ago by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On Wednesday, Abbas sent a condolence letter to Peres' family in which he said that Peres had been partner to the "peace of the brave" signed by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993, and that he had striven for peace until the day he died. The contents of Abbas' letter were also published by the official Palestinian news agency.

The last time Abbas made an official visit to Israel was in September 2010, when he met with Netanyahu and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which collapsed two weeks later.

Since then, Abbas and Netanyahu have not held an official meeting. The two did shake hands and exchanged a few words after the group photo of world leaders who took part in the climate summit in Paris in November 2015. At the time, Netanyahu's office described the brief meeting as only a matter of "politeness."

Even if Abbas does shake Netanyahu's hand during the funeral, it is still unclear if the event will turn into an opportunity for an official meeting between the two leaders. 

Last week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Netanyahu invited Abbas to come to Jerusalem and give a speech in the Knesset to the people of Israel. Participation in Peres' funeral will not be an acceptance of Netanyahu's offer, but it does send a message for both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion.

Over the past year, various international organizations and leaders have been trying to bring about a breakthrough in the stalemate in the peace process, and arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas.

The latest attempt was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and even included a date for such a meeting - a few weeks ago. Abbas said he agreed to come to such a meeting and even said he would suspend his preconditions - the release of Palestinian prisoners and a freeze on construction in the settlements. Netanyahu gave a positive answer in principle too, but asked to postpone the meeting to a later date.

The matter of Abbas' participation in the funeral has been under discussion in his office since the morning, said sources close to Abbas.

Abbas is insistent that he wants to participate in the funeral due to its international importance and the presence of numerous world leaders, even if his decision draws broad public criticism from Palestinians, they said.

Abbas' decision to attend the funeral has placed the Arab political parties in Israel, in particular the Joint List as well as the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, in an uncomfortable position. They have mostly remained quiet about Peres' death, and do not plan to participate in his funeral because of Peres' history in defense matters  and his Zionism, which they say have had effects on the Palestinian people - while the senior Palestinian leadership, headed by Abbas, who is also the head of the PLO, will take part in the funeral.

Hamas released a statement condemning the letter of condolence Abbas sent to Peres' family, as well as his attendance. The Palestinian people should be happy over the death of someone "whose hands are covered in Palestinian blood," said Hamas in the statement.

Abbas' attendance at the funeral will provide the event with a real diplomatic character. More than 100 presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other senior officials from several dozen countries will participate in Peres' funeral.

More than 100 international leaders expected

The United States will be represented by U.S. President Barack Obama, who will speak at the ceremony and will be accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry and nearly 50 members of Congress.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Prime Minister Jawad Anani will also be in attendance. Also on Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah II sent President Reuven Rivlin a condolences letter in which the king highlighted Peres' efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a two-states solution.

A number of other major leaders will attend the funeral, including French President Francois Hollande, who has been promoting an initiative over the past year to host an international peace conference to restart the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Between the end of the funeral and the beginning of Shabbat, Netanyahu is expected to hold a series of diplomatic meetings with several of the visiting international leaders. Netanyahu will not meet with Obama before he returns to the U.S., but will meet with former President Bill Clinton on Thursday night. He will also meet with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

After the funeral, Netanyahu will meet with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Russian Parliament chair Vyacheslav Volodin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Brazilian Foreign Minister José Serra.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven will attend too. His government recognized Palestine as a nation, which led to deterioration in the relations between Israel and Sweden. Other leaders coming to Jerusalem include Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German President Joachim Gauk  and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Austria will be represented by acting President Doris Bures, former President Heiz Fischer and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz. Australian Governor General Peter Cosgrove and Irish Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan will also attend.

In addition, Turkey has announced it will send a senior representative to the funeral, undersecretary of foreign affairs, Feridun Sinirlioglu, who was the architect of the recent reconciliation agreement between the two countries on the Turkish side.