U.S. President Barack Obama said both the U.S. and Israel were “built by stubborn idealists and struggling immigrants,” during a eulogy at the funeral of the late Israeli leader Shimon Peres.
Obama called Peres one of the “giants of the 20th century,” and likened him to other figures like Nelson Mandela and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. He praised Peres for his dedication to trying to solve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, he insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self-determination,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to attend the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzel national cemetery in Jerusalem, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.
At the beginning of his eulogy, Obama pointed out Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was sitting in the front row, and hailed his presence at the funeral as a “gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.” Abbas shook hands and shared a few words with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the funeral began.
In attending the funeral, Abbas hopes to “send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres,” a senior Palestinian official said.
Abbas had not visited Jerusalem since 2010 and was the first Arab leader to express sorrow over Peres’ death Wednesday. Jordan’s King Abdullah expressed his condolences to Israel Thursday. Peres’ death was met with official silence in most Arab countries, reflecting their longstanding opposition to Israel.
Obama led a delegation of 32 U.S. officials, including former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Democratic Senator Bob Casey and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Clinton also spoke at Friday’s funeral.
Peres suffered a severe stroke two weeks ago and died Wednesday at the age of 93 in a hospital in Tel HaShomer.
He held nearly every major Israeli political post during his long career, including prime minister twice, the presidency, defense minister and foreign minister.
He was the longest serving member of parliament in Israeli history, holding a seat in the Knesset for 48 years.
Former US President Bill Clinton, center, accompanied by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset, pays respects by the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said Peres devoted his life to the sovereignty of the Israeli people.
“As a man of vision, his gaze was aimed to the future,” he said. “As a man of security, he fortified Israel’s strength in many ways, some of which even today is still unknown. As a man of peace, he worked until his final days toward reconciling with our neighbors for a better future for our children.”
President Obama shared Peres’ vision for a two-state solution to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Obama awarded Peres the Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, in 2012, saying “Shimon teaches us to never settle for the world as it is.”
In turn, Peres bestowed the Medal of Distinction on Obama, making him the first sitting U.S. president to receive Israel’s highest civilian honor.