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Obama Praises Israel's Shimon Peres as a 'Giant' of 20th Century

  • VOA News

U.S. President Barack Obama touches the casket of former Israeli President Shimon Peres after speaking during the funeral service at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama touches the casket of former Israeli President Shimon Peres after speaking during the funeral service at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Shimon Peres' determination to coexist with Palestinians is "in the hands of Israel's next generation and its friends," during a eulogy at the funeral for the late Israeli leader.

Obama praised Peres as one of the "giants of the 20th century," and likened him to other iconic world leaders like Nelson Mandela and Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Obama hailed Peres for his dedication to trying to solve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and called for a renewed commitment to that cause now that the "last of the founding generation is now gone."

"Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, he insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self-determination," Obama added.

WATCH: Obama on Peres' optimism

Abbas attends funeral

At the beginning of his eulogy, Obama pointed out Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was sitting in the front row, and hailed his presence at the funeral as a "gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace." Abbas shook hands and shared a few words with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the funeral began.

In attending the funeral, Abbas hopes to "send a strong message to Israeli society that the Palestinians are for peace, and appreciate the efforts of peaceful men like Shimon Peres," a senior Palestinian official said.

Abbas had not visited Jerusalem since 2010 and was the first Arab leader to express sorrow over Peres' death Wednesday. Jordan's King Abdullah expressed his condolences to Israel Thursday. Peres' death was met with official silence in most Arab countries, reflecting their longstanding opposition to Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, sits next to European Council President Donald Tusk, second left, during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2016.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, sits next to European Council President Donald Tusk, second left, during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2016.


Bill Clinton, Kerry among US delegation

Obama led a delegation of 32 U.S. officials, including former president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Democratic Senator Bob Casey and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Clinton also spoke at Friday's funeral.

Clinton hosted Peres for the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to bring about a new period of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"As it has been said, his critics often claimed he was a naive, overly optimistic dreamer. They were only wrong about the naive part. He knew exactly what he was doing in being overly optimistic. He knew exactly what he was doing with his dreams. He never gave up on anybody," Clinton said.

FILE - Former Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2015.

FILE - Former Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2015.

Netanyahu praises Peres as 'man of vision'

Peres suffered a severe stroke two weeks ago and died Wednesday at the age of 93 in a hospital in Tel HaShomer.

He held nearly every major Israeli political post during his long career, including prime minister twice, the presidency, defense minister and foreign minister. He was the longest serving member of parliament in Israeli history, holding a seat in the Knesset for 48 years.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Peres devoted his life to the sovereignty of the Israeli people.

"As a man of vision, his gaze was aimed to the future," he said. "As a man of security, he fortified Israel's strength in many ways, some of which even today is still unknown. As a man of peace, he worked until his final days toward reconciling with our neighbors for a better future for our children."

President Obama shared Peres' vision for a two-state solution to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Obama awarded Peres the Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, in 2012, saying "Shimon teaches us to never settle for the world as it is.''

In turn, Peres bestowed the Medal of Distinction on Obama, making him the first sitting U.S. president to receive Israel's highest civilian honor.

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