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30 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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US president delivers eulogy for ‘last of the founding generation’ as leaders gather for burial of former Israeli leader

More than 70 world leaders and dignitaries attend the funeral at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president, prime minister and Nobel laureate. Mourners include Barack Obama; former US president Bill Clinton; the Prince of Wales; the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson; and the French president, François Hollande

Barack Obama evoked the “unfinished business” of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as he delivered a pointed and moving tribute at the funeral of the former Israeli president and Nobel peace prize laureate Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday.

Speaking in front of almost 80 world leaders gathered at Mount Herzl cemetery, including Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said Peres had understood that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people”.

Peres, who was regarded as the last of Israel’s founding generation, was buried between two other prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. The ceremony was Israel’s largest gathering of international dignitaries since the funeral of Rabin, Peres’s partner in peace, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.

Obama’s remarks were the most political at a sombre occasion where the ghost of the failed Middle East peace process loomed large, referred to as well by the former US president Bill Clinton and the Israeli novelist Amos Oz.

Abbas said to Netanyahu as the two men shook hands at the ceremony: “Long time, long time.”

Obama said the presence of the Palestinian leader at the funeral was “a gesture and reminder of the unfinished business of peace”.

He said Peres “never saw his dream of peace fulfilled … And yet he did not stop dreaming, and he did not stop working. Even in the face of terrorist attacks, repeated disappointments at the negotiating table, he insisted that Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and therefore equal in self-determination. He believed that Israel would be best protected when Palestinians had a state of their own.”

Obama concluded: “The last of the founding generation is now gone. Toda rabah haver yakar” – Hebrew for “thank you so much, dear friend.”

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