Image from Wikimedia Commons
The funeral of former Israeli president, prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres has begun in Jerusalem this morning.
International figures led by Barack Obama, François Hollande, and Prince Charles have gathered for the funeral of Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s defining political figures, who died on Wednesday aged 93 after suffering a stroke.
A divisive but respected world leader, Peres was a negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and was one of the people who signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993, for which he shared a Nobel Peace Prize the year after.
Among the politicians who witnessed the signing of the Oslo peace accords was Bill Clinton, who has also flown out to the region to pay his respects.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will also be in attendance. A senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press news agency that Abbas wanted to “send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres”.
For as long as the Jewish state has been founded, Shimon Peres has been a leading presence on Israel’s political scene.
Born in Wiszniewo, which was then Poland but now Belarus, Peres emigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1934 at the age of 11, and was a founder of the Labour-Zionist Youth Movement and a member of the Haganah Jewish paramilitary forces before Israel declared independence.
While becoming prime minister twice and later Israel’s ninth president, Peres’ six decades of political life shaped the landscape of the region. This was especially true during the peace negotiations that led to the signing of the Oslo peace accords.
The peace agreements – signed in Washington in 1993 and Taba, Egypt, in 1995 – foresaw the creation of a Palestinian state, and were named after the Norwegian capital where the two sides had begun eight months of secret negotiations. For this he shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with his co-signers, the then-Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO.
Peres was the last surviving figure of co-signatories, after Rabin’s assassination in 1995 and Arafat’s passing in 2004.
The World Responds
US president Barack Obama was one of the first to lead the tributes to Shimon Peres. In a statement from the White House, Obama described Peres as “the essence of Israel itself”.
“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves,” Obama said.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had sent a condolence letter to Peres’s family praising him for pursuing the “peace of the brave”.
As recently as last year, Peres strongly criticised the direction of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Until his death, Peres remained an advocate of the ‘two-state’ policy to solve the Middle Eastern conflict, ensuring that the former prime minister and president remained true to his divisive ways to the end, standing by his ideology that “the Palestinians are our closest neighbours. I believe they may become our closest friends”.