Obama: we must complete Peres's vision of peace
US President Barack Obama called on the next generation of leaders to complete Shimon Peres's vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as dignitaries from around the world gathered in Jerusalem to bury the former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In the final and most political speech of a long programme yesterday at the national cemetery on Mount Herzl, Mr Obama said Mr Peres had told him Jews should not rule over another people and that Palestinians were entitled to dignity and self-determination.
"Just as he understood the practical necessity of peace, Shimon believed that Israel's exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith," Mr Obama said. "'From the very first day we are against slaves and masters,'" he quoted Mr Peres, the last of Israel's founding generation of leaders, as having told him.
The subtle criticism came as Mr Obama winds down an eight-year tenure marked by continuous friction with Israel's conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he sat next to at yesterday's service. Mr Obama has repeatedly characterised Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace, while Mr Netanyahu contends that Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state, not settlements, is the core of the conflict.
Mr Peres, who served as president, prime minister, finance minister and other in senior posts during a career that spanned Israel's entire history, died last Wednesday aged 93 after suffering a stroke in September. Mr Obama compared Mr Peres to Nelson Mandela.
Mr Netanyahu, for his part, reminisced about his close personal friendship with Mr Peres, despite their political differences.
"Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him," Mr Netanyahu said. "But we find hope in his legacy, as does the world."
Almost 80 world leaders gathered in Jerusalem for the funeral. Other speakers included former US President Bill Clinton, Israeli novelist Amos Oz, and Mr Peres's three children.
Mr Peres began his career on the hawkish side of Israel's Labour Party and helped build up the country's nuclear programme and defence industry, before later becoming Israel's foremost advocate for peace with the Arab and Muslim world.
He shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the historic 1993 peace accord with the Palestinians, though he didn't live to see his vision of a "New Middle East" realised.
Even in death, Mr Peres was instrumental in bridging differences: The funeral offered an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet after months of failed international efforts to arrange a summit. The two shook hands before the funeral and Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Abbas for coming, though he didn't acknowledge Mr Abbas in his public remarks.
Mr Obama did, noting the symbolism of Mr Abbas's presence at a time when, he said, many Arab youth are taught to hate Israel from a young age.
Many of Israel's own Arab parliamentarians boycotted the ceremony, and some Palestinians criticised Mr Abbas for entering a site named for the founding father of Zionism.