By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders gathered in Israel on Friday for the funeral of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister and president whose pursuit of an elusive peace with the Palestinians won international embrace.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also planned to attend the burial, which will be held in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.
Abbas’s rare visit to the city, a short drive through Israeli military checkpoints from Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, seemed unlikely to yield anything more than handshakes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama.
Peres, who died on Wednesday aged 93, jointly won a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen since 2014 and Netanyahu and Abbas, deeply divided over Jewish settlement on land Palestinians seek for a state and other issues, have not held face-to-face talks since 2010.
Obama and Netanyahu were to deliver eulogies at the cemetery, which overlooks the Jerusalem forest and a verdant valley, in what could be an opportunity for the president to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to revive peacemaking.
U.S. officials have held open the possibility of Obama making another formal effort to get peace negotiations back on the agenda before he leaves office in January, possibly via a U.N. Security Council resolution.
With time short between the end of the funeral and the start of the Jewish sabbath at sundown, no plans were announced for any diplomacy on Friday. Obama and Netanyahu, who have had a testy relationship, last held talks on Sept. 21 in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Peres will be buried in a Jewish religious ceremony, in a plot between two former prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. Rabin was assassinated by an ultranationalist Israeli in 1995 over the interim peace deals that he and Peres reached with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“A light has gone out,” Obama said in a statement after Peres died in a hospital near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke.
Outside Israel’s parliament on Thursday, an estimated 50,000 Israelis filed past Peres’s flag-draped coffin as it lay in state.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, arriving in Israel a day before the burial, visited the plaza in front of parliament to stand, head bowed, in front of Peres’s casket.
The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, were not on the roster of participants issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. But the Egyptian foreign minister was scheduled to attend and King Abdullah of Jordan sent a telegram of condolences.
Obama was leading a delegation of 33 U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.
Britain’s Prince Charles, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former British leaders David Cameron and Tony Blair were also among a long list of foreign dignitaries attending the funeral.
Israel laid on heavy security, deploying some 8,000 police and intermittently closed the main highway between Tel Aviv’s airport and Jerusalem for Obama’s motorcade.
(Editing by Luke Baker and Michael Perry)