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If you like Shimon Peres's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Albie Sachs,
Desmond Tutu
and Elie Wiesel

Shimon Peres can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Shimon Peres's recommended reading: Crime and Punishment

Related Links:
Peres Center for Peace
Nobel Prize
Shimon Peres

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Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
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Shimon Peres Biography

Former President of Israel

Shimon Peres Date of birth: August 21, 1923
Date of death: September 28, 2016

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  Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres was born in the village of Vishneva in White Russia. Long a part of the Russian Empire, the district was ruled by Poland between the world wars, and now lies in an independent Belarus. Like many of their neighbors, the parents of Shimon Peres were already committed to Zionism, the movement to secure a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Shimon Peres Biography Photo
As anti-Semitic violence escalated in central Europe, the family resolved to make the long-awaited move to the Holy Land. In 1932, Peres's father traveled to the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv in British-controlled Palestine, to prepare the way for the rest of the family. Young Shimon, along with the rest of the family, joined his father in 1934. In all, half of the residents of Vishneva emigrated to Palestine. Those who remained behind, including Shimon Peres's grandparents and uncle, were massacred by the invading Germans and their local collaborators during the Second World War. The Jews of Vishneva were locked inside their synagogue and burned alive.

In the land of Israel, young Peres became active in the socialist youth group Hanoar Haoved (Working Youth). At 15, he chose to study in an agricultural school, Ben-Shemen, which operated as an autonomous community of young people. Shortly after his arrival, he joined the armed underground, the Haganah, to defend the youth village from the frequent sniper attacks by its Arab neighbors. His writing and debating skills soon caught the attention of the leaders of the Mapai labor party, Berl Katzneslon and David Ben-Gurion.

In 1947, the British resolved to leave Palestine, and the United Nations voted to partition the territory into an Arab state and a Jewish one. When the British withdrew the following year, and Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel in the land allotted it by the United Nations, seven Arab countries immediately declared war on the new republic. Although the United States and the Soviet Union both extended diplomatic recognition to Israel, they observed a complete embargo against providing arms to the new state, while the Arab states continued to receive arms from Britain.

Although young Shimon Peres was only a private in the new Israel Defense Force, he was assigned to the high command and given responsibility for areas including manpower, military intelligence and arms procurement, and was even tasked with directing the fledgling state's tiny navy. Israel survived its first war, and settled into an uneasy truce with its Arab neighbors.

Shimon Peres Biography Photo
Shimon Peres served as director of the Defense Ministry delegation in the United States in the early 1950s, and continued his education at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and at Harvard. In 1953, at age 29, he was appointed Director-General of the Ministry of Defense. He carefully nurtured a relationship with the French government, which discreetly supplied the new republic with the arms it needed for its defense. As Director General, he helped oversee the dazzling Sinai campaign of 1956, led by his close political ally Moshe Dayan. He established Israel's electronics and aviation industries and built Israel's first nuclear power station at Dimona with French assistance.

In 1959, he first won election to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, the beginning of a parliamentary career of over 40 years. Peres served as Deputy Defense Minister from 1959 until 1965, when a long-simmering conflict within the ruling labor party, the Mapai, led Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to break with the party and lead a separate faction, the Rafi, or Workers' List, in the following election. Ben-Gurion's closest followers, including Peres and Dayan, followed Ben-Gurion and served as minority members in the next session of the Knesset.

Over the next few years, Peres succeeded in mediating between Ben-Gurion and the rest of the Labor leadership. Along with another estranged faction, they formed a larger re-united Labor Party, Avoda, in 1968. Over the next years, Peres served as a cabinet minister in governments headed by Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir.

In the Labor government headed by Yitzhak Rabin from 1974 to 1977, Peres served as Minister of Defense. He led the Israel Defense Force's recovery from the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and oversaw the disengagement of forces on the Egyptian front, laying the groundwork for the eventual peace settlement between Egypt and Israel. He also advocated for the military option that led to the successful rescue of a planeful of airline passengers from terrorists who had landed a hijacked airplane at Entebbe, Uganda. In 1977, Rabin resigned as Prime Minister and designated Peres as his successor. In the next election, Labor suffered its first electoral defeat, and Peres faced the arduous task of re-building the shattered party.

In the election of 1984, although Labor succeeded in winning the largest share of seats in the Knesset, it lacked the majority necessary to form a government on its own. Peres made the difficult decision to invite Labor's principal rival, the Likud party, into a government of national unity, in which Peres would serve as Prime Minister for two years, to be followed by the Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir for two years. Peres assumed power with inflation running at 400 percent annually. He mounted an all-out campaign against inflation, securing wage freezes from the labor unions, price controls from industry, and massive cuts from every department of government. In the first month after the plan was implemented, inflation dropped dramatically, and by year's end had fallen to an acceptable level. As Prime Minister, Peres also effected the withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of Lebanon, and accomplished the airlift of thousand of Ethiopian Jews to Israel when a revolutionary dictatorship threatened their security.

At the end of his short term, he resisted the urging of his party comrades to break his agreement with the Likud party. He handed over the reins of power, as agreed, and served the national unity government for the next two years as Foreign Minister. In this capacity, he negotiated secretly with King Hussein of Jordan, reaching an agreement he believes would have ended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the end, Prime Minister Shamir rejected the agreement, handing Peres one of the most painful disappointments of his long career.

Shimon Peres Biography Photo
The 1986 elections produced a coalition government led by the Likud. Peres agreed to serve as Finance Minister. In 1992, he lost a party leadership vote to his old comrade Yitzhak Rabin. The following election returned Labor to power, with Rabin as Prime Minister and Peres as Foreign Minister. This time, Peres achieved the two greatest diplomatic successes of his career, starting with the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Shimon Peres shared the Nobel Prize for Peace with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for negotiating this agreement. Despite the many setbacks the peace process has suffered since 1993, it still appears most likely that any future lasting peace in the region will be achieved through the framework of the Oslo Agreement. A peace treaty with Jordan followed shortly thereafter.

In 1995 Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to the peace process, and Shimon Peres was once again called on to serve as Prime Minister. He served simultaneously as Defense Minister. After a fresh outbreak of violence, Peres narrowly lost a reelection bid in 1996. He served for another year as Chairman of the Labor Party, and resigned in 1997 to found the Peres Center for Peace, a non-partisan, non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion of peace in the Middle East. Over the course of his career, he wrote close to a dozen books on history, literature and politics, including his 1993 autobiography, Battling for Peace.

Shimon Peres Biography Photo
In 2001 and 2002, Shimon Peres served again as Minister of Foreign Affairs in a National Unity government headed by the Likud. Labor withdrew from this coalition in November of 2002. After suffering another electoral defeat in 2003, the Labor Party again called on Shimon Peres, now 79, to serve as its Chairman. In 2005, Peres was unseated as Chairman of the Labor Party. Within weeks, he electrified the political world by announcing that he was leaving the party he helped found, and announced his support for the candidacy of an old political adversary, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had himself recently left the Likud to found a new, centrist party, Kadima. Peres maintained that the new party would have the best chance of achieving the long-sought peace settlement with the Palestinians. When Ariel Sharon was felled by a stroke, Ehud Olmert assumed leadership of the Kadima party. In the 2006 election, Peres won re-election to the Knesset on the Kadima slate. Olmert formed a broad-based coalition government, with Peres serving as Vice Premier. In June 2007, the Knesset elected Shimon Peres to serve as President of Israel. On his election as President, Peres resigned his seat in the Knesset, bringing to an end the longest parliamentary career in his country's history. As Head of State, the President's role transcends the divisions of party politics. The election of Shimon Peres to the Presidency was the ultimate recognition of his lifelong service to his country. The Israeli constitution allows the President a single seven-year term. Shimon Peres completed his service as President in July 2014, a few weeks before his 91st birthday.

Shimon Peres was the last survivor of the generation of leaders that founded the modern state of Israel. When he died following a stroke at the age of 93, his passing was noted as the end of an era. His funeral in Jerusalem was attended by representatives of 75 countries, including President Obama and former President Clinton from the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Presidents of France and Mexico, two former British Prime Ministers, the Prime Minister of Canada, the King of Spain, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

This page last revised on Sep 30, 2016 17:01 EDT
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