Shimon Peres, former President of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be remembered as one of the founders of the State of Israel and among its most admired figures, leaving behind an immense legacy. Over a six-decade career, the statesman held virtually every senior political office, including two stints as Prime Minister and extended terms as Foreign, Defence and Finance minister. He served as President from 2007 to 2014, becoming the first Israeli President to have also served as Prime Minister. He passed away at the age of 93 on the 28th September, his condition further deteriorating after suffering a stroke on 13th September.
Long a divisive personality in politics, Peres became one of Israel’s most treasured public figures in his later years – the last surviving link to the country’s founding fathers.
Among his most well-known achievements are the 1993 Oslo Accords, of which he was a leading architect, and have defined the Israeli-Palestinian relationship for the last 23 years. The interim peace agreement launched public and direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of this, together with Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and has been widely celebrated for his work to advance the State of Israel and to lay the foundation for future peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
In 1996, he founded the Peres Center for Peace, which is now Israel’s leading organisation promoting peacebuilding.
Mr Peres was a Member of the Knesset from 1959 to 2007. During his career, he represented five centre-left political parties in the Knesset: Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labor and Kadima, and has led Alignment and Labor.
As Prime Minister from 1984-1986, Mr Peres is credited with turning Israel’s economy around and saving it from collapse following the worst economic crisis in its history, through his Economic Stabilization Program. He worked during his premiership to enable the immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, and oversaw Operation Moses, during which 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel.
Mr Peres is among the founders of Israel’s high-tech industry, which has led the country to become the technological powerhouse that it is today – the ‘Startup Nation’. As Prime Minister, Mr Peres was among the first to recognise the potential of computer software as an export.
During Israel’s War of Independence, Mr Peres was responsible for arms purchases and recruitment, and in 1948 was appointed head of the naval services. In 1949, he headed the Defence Ministry’s procurement delegation to the United States.
In 1952, he was appointed Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defence, and the following year, he became Director-General. At age 29, he was the youngest person to hold this position. He played an instrumental role in developing Israel’s defence and security industry, establishing the IDF, developing Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona and the nuclear research facility at Sorek, and heading the Israeli defence industry. Israel’s defence industry now supplies the UK armed forces and other militaries around the world with cutting-edge technology and innovations such as missile defence, cyber security and drones.
As Minister of Defense in 1974, Peres conducted the negotiations on the Sinai Interim Agreement with Egypt, and his secret meetings with King Hussein led to the signing of the historic treaty between Israel and Jordan under the government of Yitzhak Rabin.
The highlight of his tenure as Defence Minister was the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976, in which he oversaw Israeli commandos flying 2,000 miles into the heart of Africa to bring home over 100 Jewish hostages whose Air France flight had been hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian and German terrorists, abetted by Ugandan President Idi Amin.
Mr Peres was born as Szymon Perski in the town of Vishnyeva, Belarus (then Poland). He immigrated to Israel in 1934, studied at Balfour and Geula in Tel Aviv, and was then educated in the Ben-Shemen youth village. In 1941, he was sent for training to Kibbutz Geva with a group from Ben-Shemen, and later joined Kibbutz Alumot in the lower Galilee.
Mr Peres was married to Sonya, who passed away in 2011; they had two sons and a daughter, and eight grandchildren.
After suffering a stroke on the 13th September, he was placed in a medically induced coma. On 27th September, his condition rapidly deteriorated.
He will be laid to rest on Friday at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
Shimon Peres, born 2 August 1923, died 28 September 2016