World leaders gather in Jerusalem for funeral of ex-President Peres

JERUSALEM — World leaders gathered Friday morning in Jerusalem to bid farewell to one of Israel’s founding fathers, Shimon Peres.

More than 70 delegations from around the world attended the funeral, including dignitaries such as U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Charles, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and French President Francois Hollande.

Barack Obama, who eulogized Peres at the funeral, quoted the veteran statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate as having said that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people.”

These words were widely perceived as a reference to Israel’s 49 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Peres, who was a strong supporter of building Jewish settlements in the 1970s, became a champion of efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his later life.

He concluded his eulogy in Hebrew, saying “Shimon, toda raba, khaver,” or “Shimon, thank you very much, friend.”

Bill Clinton said Peres inspired him by refusing to lose hope.

“I always was in awe of his endless capacity to look beyond even the most crushing setbacks in order to seize the possibilities,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Peres a “great man” and said their relations evolved from political rivalry to a close friendship.

He also thanked all the international dignitaries for their presence at the funeral.

“I want to thank you all for coming today. That so many leaders came from around the world to bid farewell to Shimon is a testament to his optimism, his quest for peace and his love for Israel the people of Israel,” the prime minister said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also attended the funeral, a move considered by Obama as “a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greeted Abbas when he arrived, a rare meeting in the past two years amid a stalled peace process.

Peres, Israel’s ninth president, passed away early Wednesday morning at the age of 93, after spending two weeks in induced coma following a stroke.

In 1994, Peres won the Nobel Prize for peace for his involvement in achieving the short-lived peace deal with the Palestinians in 1993. He shared the prize with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

His seven-decade-long political career covered almost every significant office, including two terms as prime minister, a position he held as part of coalition agreements, foreign minister, defense minister, finance minister, chairman of Israeli Labor Party, and opposition leader in parliament.

In 1985, as a prime minister of a unity government with the right-wing Likud party, he spearheaded the “Economic Stabilization Plan.”

The plan, which included an austerity budget and radical reforms, marked the transition of the country from a predominantly social-democratic economy to a neoliberal-capitalist market.

He also launched Israel’s nuclear program, and played a vital role in establishing the country’s military and aviation industries.

In addition, he was instrumental in forging a path for the export of Israeli weapons and security equipment throughout the world. PNA/Xinhua –