Religious and political leaders from all over the world paid tribute to Israel’s former President, Shimon Peres, who died on Wednesday 28 September 2016 at the age of 93.
Pope Francis led tributes in a telegram to the people of Israel. On June 8 2014, Pope Francis hosted a prayer meeting in the Vatican Gardens with President Peres and the Mahmour Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority.
Pope Francis said: “As the State of Israel mourns Mr Peres, I hope that his memory and many years of service will inspire us all to work with ever greater urgency for peace and reconciliation between peoples.
“In this way, his legacy will truly be honoured and the common good for which he so diligently laboured will find new expressions, as humanity strives to advance on the path towards enduring peace. With the assurance of my prayers for all who grieve, especially for the Peres family, I invoke the divine blessings of consolation and strength upon the nation,” the Pope declared.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury recalled his meeting with him in 2014: “I was struck by his realism about the difficulties and dangers facing Israel, together with the profound hope for a better future that continued to animate his life and work.”
Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis said that “Shimon Peres was the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursu6it of peace,” adding that the former Israeli president was “a born leader, a uniquely talented diplomat and a relentless campaigner for peace”.
Mr Peres had a hawkish past being known as a champion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank before becoming a passionate supporter of a two-state solution. As Israel’s foreign minister he helped negotiate the Oslo Accords, the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian agreement that very nearly brought the conflict to an end.
He was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1994 together with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
He continued to pursue a two-state solution even as a second intifada broke out and later the election of Hamas to the Palestinian Authority seemed to remove all hope. “There is no other solution,” he said in 2013. “Peace for Israel is not just a strategic choice. It is a moral call which stems from the depth of our heritage.”
There were tributes from some Palestinian quarters including Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who called him a “brave” partner for peace.
Hamas supporters cheered Mr Peres’s death and said “the Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal”.
Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, called on the younger generation of political and religious leaders to secure the legacy of peace of the elder statesman. He reflected on being asked by Shimon Peres to establish a parallel religious track to the peace process which resulted in the Alexandria Declaration.
In this declaration religious leaders from Israel, Palestinian controlled areas and neighbouring countries pledged to renounce violence in the name of religion.
Lord Carey wrote: “I pray that his death is a baton-passing moment. We need younger leaders among the current generation of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to follow his example to bring about a two-state solution.
“The death of this great man poses a challenge to the current generation to step forward and secure his legacy,” he added.