peres funeral abbas netanyahu handshake
Abbas, Netanyahu shake hands at service
01:38 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Abbas' presence a "reminder of the unfinished business of peace," Obama says

Netanyahu tells members of Palestinian delegation he appreciates their attendance

CNN  — 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shook hands Friday before the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres.

The two men have often been on opposite sides of a divide that sometimes seems unbridgeable.

The leaders apparently were entering the funeral for Israel’s former President and Prime Minister when an Arab media press spokesman for Netanyahu captured the brief moment of reconciliation.

Abbas seemed to say in English, “Long time, long time.”

Netanyahu said to the Palestinian delegation, “It’s something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people.”

In his tribute to Peres, President Barack Obama underlined Abbas’ decision to attend, saying his presence there was “a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”

Abbas and Peres were linked by the 1993 Oslo peace accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. For his efforts, Peres received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Abbas, a negotiator for the Palestinian side, signed the accords on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Abbas’ office had said Thursday he would be part of a Palestinian delegation at Peres’ funeral in Jerusalem.

His attendance came after Hamas – the Palestinian Islamist movement that controls Gaza – criticized him for writing a letter of condolence to Peres’ family following the news of his death Wednesday at 93.

In his letter, Abbas expressed his “sorrow,” noting that Peres was a partner in making peace alongside Arafat and Rabin.

Small gestures

CNN’s Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem cautioned against over-optimism after the handshake.

But he said Peres believed in small gestures. “Even that small handshake between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have made Peres smile a bit,” Liebermann said.

David Horowitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, told CNN that few other Arab leaders were present. “We saw a fairly low level of Arab representation,” he said.

“Yes, Abbas was there – (but there was) no Jordanian king, no Egyptian president, not because they lacked empathy for Peres or even perhaps lacked empathy for Israel, but because their peoples are not in the place that would allow these monarchs and rulers to come.”

CNN’s Joel Labi and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report from Jerusalem.