After suffering a stroke two weeks ago, Shimon Peres has died. As one of the architects of Israel’s rebirth as a sovereign nation, Peres served as prime minister for two terms and the ceremonial role of president for one term. Peres lived through the turbulent times of Israel’s reestablishment as a nation, and he was an important part of Israel’s modern history.
Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski in 1923 in Poland, reports the BBC. In 1934, the family moved to the British held mandate of Palestine. Peres attended school and worked on an agricultural commune known as a kibbutz.
Becoming involved in politics at the young age of 18, Shimon Peres was elected secretary of a Zionist labor movement. As a democratic socialist movement, the Labor party would become Israel’s dominant political force during its early years.
In 1947, a year before Israel’s reestablishment, future prime minister David Ben-Gurion appointed Peres to a prominent position with the Haganah. Peres was in charge of personnel and arms purchases for the predecessor of the Israel Defence Forces.
As the state fought for its independence, Shimon Peres was able to secure a deal with France to provide Israel with desperately needed military aircraft. Peres was also instrumental in setting up Israel’s secret nuclear facility at Dimona in the 1950s and 1960s.
The long political career of Shimon Peres contained a number of highs and lows. First elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in 1959, Peres continued to serve in the legislative body until he became president in 2007. He did resign once in 1965 after being implicated for attempts to influence Britain to keep a military presence in Egypt’s Sinai region.
Peres served in a number of cabinet positions, including defense, finance, and foreign affairs. As defense minister in 1976, Peres helped plan the daring raid to rescue Israeli hostages held by Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe airport in Uganda. Shimon Peres ran for prime minister of Israel five times, but he was never directly elected to the top post, the Guardian states.
The long career of Shimon Peres was viewed by many as being both pragmatic and idealistic. In the 1970s, Peres supported the early settler movement in the West Bank and Gaza.
But in the 1990s, Peres became a passionate peace advocate, and he supported the Oslo Accords. As foreign minister, Peres was an architect of the accords, and along with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he attended the signing ceremony of the Oslo Accords with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat, Peres, and Rabin won Nobel prizes for their efforts.
However, the peace agreement achieved only limited success. After the assassination of Rabin in 1995, Shimon Peres briefly became prime minister during a time of political turmoil and unrest. Anger at a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel led to Peres losing the general election.
The Oslo Accords did help to bring about a peace agreement between the Jewish State and Jordan. Peres continued to promote peaceful coexistence after Oslo. In 1996, he founded the Peres Center for Peace, which aimed to bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as between Jews and Arabs living in Israel.
Although he was an integral part of Israel’s political scene, Peres was still seen by many Israelis as an outsider. His Hebrew still had a Polish/Yiddish accent. He was well spoken in a rhetorical style, in contrast to his peers who were generally more direct in the Israeli style, the National Post commented. Although he served as defense minister, unlike most Israelis, Peres never served in a combat role.
As president, however, Peres came to be seen as Israel’s elder statesman. He continued to promote peace talks with Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries. Although the role was ceremonial, Peres sometimes clashed with the more conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Shimon Peres had two sons and a daughter. His wife, Sonya, passed away in 2011.
[Featured Image by Oded Balilty/AP Images]