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Op-Ed: Abbas’ presence and actions at Peres’ funeral shouldn’t be criticized

From the moment Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas announced his intentions to attend Shimon Peres’ funeral, he was attacked throughout the Arab world. Following the funeral, he was attacked even more due to his actions during the ceremony. Becca Noy explains why Abbas shouldn’t have been attacked and why his decision to attend the funeral of Israel’s 9th President is a brave and important one, which contains a message for the whole world.
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After sending a letter in which he expressed his sorrow over Shimon Peres’ passing, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attended Israel’s 9th President’s funeral on Friday. Alongside four other senior level Palestinian officials, Abbas made his way to Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, just as dozens of high ranking foreign officials did from all over the world. Abbas’ attendance was described by US President Barack Obama as “a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”

While most of Obama’s statements regarding the Middle East don’t sit with me well, we seem to be in agreement regarding this one.

I agree that peace in the region is needed. The whole region is stricken with conflicts. In regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the one that has been affecting me on a daily basis ever since I moved to Israel 8 years ago, both sides have suffered too much. While efforts to achieve peace have been made in the past, nothing has worked and this has caused many Israelis and Palestinians alike to lose hope.

Abbas made a gesture and came to Israel in order to pay respects to a person he perceived as a real partner for peace. On numerous occasions, Peres said similar things about Abbas. During the service, pictures of Abbas were publicized, making headlines worldwide. Some of these pictures showed Abbas appearing to shed tears for Peres as well as him shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas and Netanyahu at the funeral Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

While these pictures were usually praised or presented in a good light in the West and in Israel, the Arab world took them in a completely different direction.

After harshly criticizing Abbas’ decision to attend the funeral, the Arab world, including Arab social media users, slammed the PA President for his actions during the ceremony. Whether it was for appearing to cry, shaking hands with Netanyahu or hugging Peres’ daughter, Abbas was attacked.

Sharif Nashashibi wrote in an op-ed that was published by Al Jazeera: “If Palestinians wept during Shimon Peres' funeral, it was for the sorry spectacle of Mahmoud Abbas' attendance.”

Many Arab social media users called Abbas a traitor. “Yet to see #Abbas crying for the thousands of #Palestinians that lost their lives from the actions of #Peres,” tweeted a user by username @Pray4Souri.

However, it’s important to note that this criticism and name-calling wasn’t just coming from the Arab world, it was also coming from a spot that is “closer-to-home” for Abbas, from Palestinians. Members of his own political party, Fatah, bashed him for attending the funeral or implied that Abbas was just attending the funeral due to his presidential duties, a claim that somewhat contradicts the PA President’s statement about regarding Peres as a true and brave peacemaker.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, the day after Peres’ passing, Fatah demonized Israel’s 9th President on its official Facebook page, depicting him as a murderer who is on his way to hell. While the demonization of Peres may not have directly included a link to Abbas, it is probably this type of propaganda that motivated a group of unknown suspects to fire shots at Abbas’ home yesterday (a report that Palestinian news agencies covered but that Israeli officials have denied).

Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, called the PA leader “a Jew” for attending the funeral and acting as he did. “For the millionth time, he doesn’t represent us,” said Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior level Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, an Iranian TV station. “He is the handiwork of Israel and I hope he joins Peres in hell.”

Abbas during the funeral Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

Did Abbas deserve this criticism? No. He did something that many other Arab leaders were too scared to do, he showed up for the funeral of an Israeli official who promoted peace. Moreover, he did not regret his decision to attend the funeral despite the harsh criticism that was hurled at him!

While hope can come from various places including grassroots movements, it can also come from leaders. I think Shimon Peres promoted that hope of peace between Israeli and Palestinians in a unique manner not only among the two nations but around the world and despite his passing, he will continue to symbolize this kind of hope for long awaited peace until it is achieved. And Abbas made a choice that was welcomed by the majority of Israelis I’ve discussed the topic with and paid his respects to Israel’s 9th President.

While one can debate whether his decision to attend the funeral was genuine or calculated with ulterior motives, it was nevertheless in my opinion a brave one that will hopefully inspire Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the world to continue to work for peace as they see that the potential for peace still exists.

JOL Blogger | Becca Noy

Becca is currently completing her B.A in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and a member of the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship 2016. She served as an operations officer in the IDF's Givati Brigade.

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