Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged greetings with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas before the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres — but it was First Lady Sarah Netanyahu who dominated the encounter by inviting the Palestinian leader for a visit.
It was the first time the men had shaken hands in over a year. Abbas and Netanyahu have not held an official meeting since 2010.
PM Netanyahu and Mrs Sara Netanyahu with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the funeral of Israel’s 9th President Shimon Peres pic.twitter.com/gctygW19Jk— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 30, 2016
“Long time, long time,” Abbas said.
While Netanyahu appeared ill at ease during the rare encounter, his wife, Sara Netanyahu, was effusive.
“I’m so happy,” Sara Netanyahu said. “I look forward to having you in our house.”
At the request of Peres’s family, Abbas was seated in the front row during the funeral proceedings. He sat between the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban.
President Barack Obama, who was seated next to Netanyahu at the funeral, mentioned Abbas in his speech, saying that the Palestinian president’s “presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”
Peres was a signatory to the Oslo Accords, a peace effort signed by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in 1993. Netanyahu’s opposition to those accords has defined his political career.
The Palestinian leader’s encounter with Netanyahu was cooler than his exchange with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, with whom he appeared to share an embrace. Though he is a member of Netanyahu’s party, Rivlin is seen as more friendly towards Palestinian interests than the prime minister.
Earlier this summer, Rivlin and Abbas traveled to Brussels at the same time for meetings with European leaders, but Abbas declined an offer to meet with Rivlin.
Meanwhile, Hamas leaders opposed Abbas’s decision to attend the funeral, and protesters in Gaza rallied against his attendance.
Other world leaders in attendance at the funeral included the Spanish king, Felipe VI, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the former British prime minister David Cameron, the Prince of Wales, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and French president Francois Holland, among many others.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.