Leaders From 70 Nations in Israel for Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Peres' Funeral

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Israelis paying their last respects to Shimon Peres at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem, September 29, 2016.
Israelis paying their last respects to Shimon Peres at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem, September 29, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

World leaders and dignitaries from 70 countries will attend the state funeral of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, in Jerusalem on Friday, after thousands of Israelis paid last respects to the elder statesman who died on Wednesday.

Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said that several Jewish and Arab suspects were arrested, out of fear that they would cause disturbances at the funeral.

Alsheich said the preventative arrests were made at the request of the Shin Bet security service and police intelligence, who named several prominent figures they feared may seek to disrupt the funeral.

The funeral begins at 9 A.M. local time with the arrival of state leaders and overseas delegations to the national cemetery at Mount Herzl. About 30 minutes later, the leaders of Israel — President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor — will arrive.

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

Several local and world leaders and family members will then speak, including Rivlin, Netanyahu, Edelstein, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, writer Amos Oz, Peres’ three children — Yoni and Chemi Peres, and Tzvia Walden — and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The burial will commence around 11:45 A.M. and be conducted according to Jewish tradition. 

After a series of prayers, official wreaths will be laid at the graveside. After the official entourage leaves, it will be possible for private citizens to lay wreaths.

An estimated 50,000 people visited the plaza at the entrance to the Knesset Thursday in order to pay their last respects to the former president, who was lying in state in the government building.

The Knesset event began at around 9 A.M. with a modest ceremony: A squad from the Knesset Guard carried Peres’ coffin into the plaza. Rivlin, Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Edelstein all laid wreaths at the bier.

The visiting hours had to be extended to 11 P.M., in order to accommodate all those who wanted to pay tribute to Peres. The former president had died in the early hours of Wednesday morning, two weeks after suffering a stroke. 

A massive security operation, involving the Israel Police, Border Police, Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet, government ministries and other state bodies will maintain security, deal with traffic arrangements and maintain public order during the funeral.

Israel's main traffic artery, Highway 1, which connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv has been closed until 9 AM local time, to make way for the arrival at VIPs.

Police Commissioner Alsheich described the security detail as “very complex and in many ways unprecedented compared to what the police have accomplished in the past. It’s a huge challenge with regards to security, traffic, public order, and different intelligence and technological interfaces.” 

The funeral is expected to cause major traffic disruptions in both Jerusalem and the Route 1 highway between Tel Aviv and the capital.

All roads leading to the Mount Herzl cemetery will be blocked as of 6:30 A.M. Roads connecting the capital’s major hotels to these streets will also be closed. All roads will reopen once the funeral is over and the mourners have left.

In addition, Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be closed completely in both directions from 7:30 A.M. to 9:30 A.M., and then again from 12:30 P.M. to 2 P.M.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ request to attend Friday's funeral was approved Thursday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior Israeli official said.

This will be Abbas’ first official visit in Israel since September 2010.

Abbas is expected to be accompanied at the funeral by a delegation of senior Palestinian officials, including Majid Faraj, the head of Palestinian Intelligence; Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization; and Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh.

On Wednesday, Abbas sent a condolence letter to Peres’ family in which he said 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.

When Abbas visited Israel in September 2010, he met 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 unclear if the event will turn into an opportunity for an official meeting between the two leaders.

Abbas was the first Arab leader to announce that he would be attending Peres’ funeral. His attendance at the ceremony will provide the event with a real diplomatic character, especially in light of the attendance of Obama. 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Prime Minister Jawad Anani will also be in attendance.

Also Thursday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II sent President Reuven Rivlin a condolence letter in which he highlighted Peres’ efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a two-state solution.

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

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will also attend. His government recognized Palestine as a nation, which led to a deterioration in relations between Israel and Sweden. 

Other leaders at the funeral will include Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German President Joachim Gauck and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Prince Charles and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson will be representing the United Kingdom.

Turkey announced that it will be sending 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.

The United States will be represented by Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and nearly 50 members of Congress. Dignitaries also include National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, and former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. 

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 be meeting Obama before the U.S. president returns to the United States. However, he was expected to meet with former President Bill Clinton last night. 

He will also meet with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Also after the ceremony, Netanyahu will meet with the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Russian Parliament Chair Vyacheslav Volodin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Brazilian Foreign Minister José Serra.

Austria will be represented by acting President Doris Bures, former President Heinz Fischer and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz. Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Irish Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan will also attend.

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