By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to pay a rare visit to Jerusalem on Friday to attend the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres, a Palestinian official said on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear if the occasion would yield anything more than handshakes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, who will also be at the burial.
Peres, who died on Wednesday aged 93, won a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts with the Palestinians in the 1990s. But with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frozen since 2014, it had been unclear whether Abbas would travel from nearby Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem.
“Abbas plans to go,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because no formal announcement had been made.
The Western-backed Palestinian leader, who exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, last visited Jerusalem on Sept. 15, 2010, when he held talks with Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic presidential candidate, attended that meeting.
Abbas and Netanyahu, who last shook hands publicly at a U.N. climate conference in Paris on Nov. 15, 2015, have agreed in principle to hold a summit in Moscow at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But there have been no practical moves toward scheduling such a meeting, with both sides deeply divided over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land that Palestinians seek for an independent state.
Outside Israel’s parliament on Thursday, thousands of Israelis filed past Peres’s flag-draped coffin, honoring the former president and prime minister, who died two weeks after a stroke.
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.
Tens of thousands of people were expected to walk past Peres’s coffin as it lay in state in the parliamentary square on Thursday during a 12-hour public memorial.
“He was a man with a great dream to bring peace to this region, the new Middle East. Sadly, we have not reached that goal yet but we still carry on with his aims,” said Michael Leon, a British-born bank worker.
Britain’s Prince Charles and French President Francois Hollande were among a long list of foreign dignitaries set to attend Peres’s funeral, which will take place in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Ralph Boulton)