A dazzling array of dignitaries from around the world gathered at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem at 9 am on Friday to pay their last respects to Shimon Peres, Israel’s elder statesman, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 93. Also in attendance were Dr. Tsvia Walden, Yoni Peres, and Chemi Peres, who will be saying farewell to their father.
Former President Bill Clinton arrived on Thursday, a day early, and immediately went to the Knesset in Jerusalem where Peres’ coffin lay in state. Clinton was particularly close to Peres since they worked together on the Oslo Accords in the 1990’s. Their relationship was based on mutual respect and in 2013, when Peres conferred on Clinton the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israel’s highest civilian honor, when he referred to Clinton as “my personal friend and a global treasure”.
The list of dignitaries arriving for the funeral is impressive. Though not known for being a friend of Israel, US president Barack Obama will speak at the ceremony. Also representing the US will be Secretary of State John Kerry, and the present Democratic candidate for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.
After much deliberation, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he will attend with three other representatives from his government. Though Knesset members from the Joint Arab List have announced they will not attend, Arab members of the left-wing opposition parties have said they will attend.
Peres’ son-in-law and personal doctor, Prof. Rafi Walden, publicly expressed his disappointment in the Arab MK’s refused to attend Peres’ funeral.
“The Arabs of Israel, unfortunately, are missing an unprecedented opportunity to express their appreciation for a man who did more than any other in Israel to bring peace and love between Jews and Arabs – both within Israel and between Israel and its neighbors – and it’s a great pity,” Walden said to the media.
Approximately 90 delegations from 70 countries will be in attendance, including French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Prime Minister Theresa May, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, former British prime minister David Cameron, Britain’s Prince Charles, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German President Joachim Gauck, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Egyptian Foreign Minister Samah Shoukry, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Along with the traditional Jewish rituals, musician David D’or will sing Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) at the funeral, a Jewish prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as per Peres’ request written in his will.
The ceremony is expected to draw at least 5,000 people to the center of Jerusalem, making travel difficult in the already pressured pre-Sabbath hours. Police have announced the closure of several main arteries, suggesting residents plan on using alternative routes.
This is the largest gathering of world leaders in Israel in many years and Israeli Prime Minister is taking the opportunity to hold high-level meetings. On Thursday, Netanyahu met with Bill Clinton and later in the evening, he met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. It has been announced that he will meet with US Secretary of State Kerry over the weekend.
Israel’s mission to the United Nations led by Ambassador Danny Danon held a memorial ceremony at 9am local time on Thursday in the UN headquarters in memory of Peres. The ceremony was attended by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US Ambassador Samantha Power and ambassadors from more than 40 countries.