Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas shook hands and spoke briefly at Shimon Peres’s funeral on Friday in a rare public encounter between the two men.
The encounter took place as mourners gathered ahead of the funeral. It was believed to be their first handshake since a Paris climate meeting last November.
‘Good to see you. Long time,’ Abbas said in broken English, a video posted by Netanyahu’s spokesman showed.
Netanyahu and his wife thanked him for coming.
The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu was in 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.
Peace efforts have been at a complete standstill since April 2014.
Abbas was given a front-row seat next to European Council president Donald Tusk.
He was making a rare trip to Jerusalem from his base in the West Bank city of Ramallah, joining leaders from around the world for the funeral of the Israeli elder statesman and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
On Wednesday, Abbas described Peres as a ‘brave’ partner for peace.
Abbas negotiated with Peres and signed the Oslo peace accord of 1993, which earned the then foreign minister the Nobel prize alongside prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
‘Peres was a partner in making the brave peace with the martyr Yasser Arafat and prime minister Rabin, and made unremitting efforts to reach a lasting peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life,’ Abbas said earlier.
No other Arab leaders attended the funeral. Many in the Arab world accuse Peres of ‘war crimes’ for his role in successive Middle East conflicts.
Egypt was represented by foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, while Jordan also sent a minister. They are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel.
Abbas and Netanyahu were not expected to meet after the funeral.
Ofer Zalzberg, senior Middle East analyst for Brussels-based think tank the International Crisis Group, said the Palestinian leader’s attendance was about influencing public opinion rather than wooing the Israeli premier.
‘(The visit) is significant in terms of Abbas’s two principal target audiences: Israeli public opinion and international public opinion. Abbas is showing to both that he rewards those committed to the two-state solution,’ he said.
Netanyahu heads what is widely considered to be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
He remains ostensibly committed to a two-state solution, but during his successful re-election campaign in March last year he pledged he would not allow a Palestinian state if he won.
Netanyahu has said he is ready to hold new peace talks with Abbas at any time provided there are no preconditions.
The Palestinians have said repeatedly that there can be no meaningful talks without a halt to Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories.
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