Abbas Participation in Peres Funeral Sends Message of Peace, Palestinian Official Says

Palestinian president's bureau and Israeli Arab party that boycotted funeral were in touch, but disagreed over attendance; Palestinian official suspended after criticizing Abbas for visit.

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 Image released by Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman shows Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas shaking hands with Benjamin Netanyahu during funeral of Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016.
Image released by Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman shows Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas shaking hands with Benjamin Netanyahu during funeral of Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016.Credit: GPO, Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Sources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the criticism directed at his attendance of former President Shimon Peres' funeral in Jerusalem on Friday.  

Abbas' participation in the funeral was very important with regards to Israeli and international public opinion, said Muhammad al-Madani, who is in charge of relations with Israeli society in the Palestinian Authority and who was part of the Palestinian delegation to the funeral.

Their presence at the funeral, he says, was meant to convey a clear message to the Israeli public that Abbas is serious in his approach to peace and that the ball is in Israel's court, he added.   

Israel's President Rivlin embraces Palestinian President Abbas before the state funeral for Shimon Peres. Credit: GPO

Madani, who on Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's orders is still formally forbidden from entering Israel, said that the Palestinian leadership understands that attending the funeral won't bring about short-term change or diplomatic progress with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

It will, however, aid international efforts, especially in light of talk of convening an international summit as part of the French peace initiative, he said.  

Israeli Arab boycott

Haaretz has learned that Abbas' bureau and the Israeli-Arab Joint List Party were in touch and even disagreed over the issue of participation in the funeral, even though both sides refrained from publicly criticizing one another.

Joint List officials admitted that the Palestinian decision caused unease and debate within the Israeli Arab party, since it left the representatives of Israel's Arab community in a problematic situation – in which the Palestinian president and the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization formally participated in the funeral while their representatives of the Arab public to the Knesset did not.

Higher Arab Monitoring Committee chairman and former MK Mohammad Barakeh said that the Joint List's decision not to participate in the funeral was the correct one, and that Abbas' participation was also justified.

"The Joint List and Knesset members didn’t join Israeli national mourning out of the sense of discrimination, de-legitimization and inequality that the Arab public feels as a result of a continued policy of Israeli governments throughout history, and Shimon Peres was partner to many governments and Knessets At the same time, Abu Mazen's participation, as the president of the Palestinian nation, was correct because of the international stature and the participation of world leaders in the funeral," he said, referring to Abbas.

Unfriendly occupier

Meanwhile, different Palestinian factions continued their assault on Abbas for having participated in the funeral. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said that Abbas is acting more as a Jew and that his visit does not represent the Palestinian people, while the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called his actions a hard blow for the Palestinians.

Criticism of Abbas' actions was also heard within his faction, Fatah, with a number of senior officials coming out against it in closed circles. Fatah activists are conducting intensive meetings throughout the West Bank ahead of the party's convention, which is set to take place in coming months, and there were those who behind closed doors didn’t hide their disappointment from Abbas.

"It's been 23 years, and Abu Mazen is trying to get closer to the Israelis and to influence Israeli public opinion, and the Israeli response is more humiliation, more settlements and more apartheid," an activist from Fatah youth group in the Bethlehem district said, referring to Abbas.  

In addition, an officer in the Palestinian coordination and liaison administration wrote on his Facebook page that he was suspended from work after he criticized Abbas' participation in Peres' funeral.

The officer, Osama Mansour Abu Arab, wrote on his Facebook page that he is a Palestinian citizen who loves his homeland and that he was exposed to the public criticism that followed Abbas' decision to participate in the funeral.

"Everyone bared their teeth since it became known that you're planning to participate in the funeral [of  the person] who established the settlements that you call to freeze, the one responsible for Oslo [Accords], the one responsible for the Kafr Qasem massacre, responsible for the massacre at the Jenin refugee camp. Who is he that you attend his funeral while your people suffer. If you made the decision, then you made a mistake. If you were advised, you were led astray. You can't have friendly relations and humanitarian relations with the occupier as long as it continues in its policy against the Palestinian nation," Abu Arab wrote.

He later wrote on Facebook that he was suspended following his comments, but added that he is still loyal to his leadership and is bound to its decisions.  

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