Peres, who held government positions since Israel’s 1948 founding and was president, prime minister, cabinet member, parliament member and Nobel Prize laureate in his long career, died Wednesday at 93 after a stroke. He was regarded as the last of Israel’s founding statesmen.
More than 80 heads of state and their representatives attended Peres’ interment at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Cemetery on Friday, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a longtime ideological enemy. In an incident evocative of the failed peace process in Israel, Abbas shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the somber ceremony, saying, “Long time, long time.”
Obama, in his eulogy, noted Peres understood “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people” and that Abbas’ presence was a gesture and reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”
“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. I don’t think he was naïve, but [he] understood from hard-earned experience that true security comes from making peace with your neighbors…He showed us that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist idea, a free life in a homeland regained, a secure life in a nation that can defend itself, by itself.”
Obama ended with, “The last of the founding generation is now gone.”
“Toda rabah haver yakar,” he added, Hebrew for “Thank you so much, dear friend.”
In his eulogy, former President Bill Clinton noted Peres “never gave up on anything,” adding his thanks for the invitation to speak “even though I am not a citizen of a country I love so much.” Clinton said Peres’ vision was already being lived in Israel.
Netanyahu noted he and Peres began as political rivals but became friends with shared ideals, calling Peres a “founding father of Israel.” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Peres a “visionary patriot” and “a man of deeds.”
On Thursday, Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, called security preparations for the ceremony “unprecedented.”
After the ceremony, Obama and Clinton boarded Air Force One to return to the United States. At one point, the president appeared impatient aboard the jet while Clinton was chatting with Kerry on the tarmac.
“Let’s go!” Obama said to Clinton after clapping three times, which was captured by a Sky News camera.
The 42nd U.S. president then climbed the stairs and the two patted each other on the back before they disappeared into the plane.
Air Force One then departed Israel and was scheduled to make a refueling stop in Maine before it returned to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington on Friday evening.