Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Shimon Peres

(1923 - 2016)

Shimon Peres was one of Israel’s longest-serving and most distinguished politicians. He was the first person to have served as both Prime Minister and President of the Jewish State.

Peres was born on August 2, 1923, in Wieniawa, Poland (now Vishniev in Belarus), and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his family at the age of eleven. He grew up in Tel Aviv and attended the agricultural high school at Ben Shemen.

Peres spent several years in Kibbutz Geva and Kibbutz Alumot, of which he was one of the founders, and in 1943 was elected Secretary of the Labor Zionist youth movement. In 1944, he returned to Kibbutz Alumot, where he worked as a farmer and shepherd.

In 1947, after having been conscripted by David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol to the Haganah, Peres was assigned responsibility for manpower and arms, an activity which he continued during the early part of Israel’s War of Independence. A year later, in 1948, Peres was appointed head of Israel’s navy and, at the war’s end, assumed the position of Director of the Defense Ministry’s delegation in the United States. While in the United States, he studied at the New York School for Social Research and at Harvard.

In 1953, at the age of 29, Peres was appointed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to the post of Director General of the Defense Ministry, a position he held until 1959. During that period, he shaped the special relations between Israel and France and established Israel’s defense industry, as well as its nuclear program.

In 1956, Shimon Peres masterminded the Sinai Campaign.

In 1959, Peres was elected to the Knesset and remained a member until elected President in June 2007. From that year, and until 1965, he served as Deputy Defense Minister. In 1965, together with David Ben-Gurion, he left Mapai and became Secretary General of Rafi (Israel Workers List). In 1967, he was instrumental in forming a union between Rafi and Mapai, giving birth to the Labor Party.

In 1969, Shimon Peres became Minister of Immigrant Absorption, as well as undertaking responsibility for the development of the disputed territories. From 1970 to 1974, he served as Minister of Transport and Communications. In 1974, after acting for a period of time as Minister of Information in Golda Meir’s government, Peres was appointed Minister of Defense, replacing Moshe Dayan, a position he held until 1977.

While Minister of Defense, he revitalized and strengthened the Israel Defense Forces, and participated in the negotiations of the second interim agreement with Egypt. He was behind the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation and authored the “Good Fence” concept, promoting positive relations with residents of southern Lebanon.

Peres briefly served as Acting Prime Minister following the resignation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1977. Following the defeat of the Labor Party in the 1977 general elections – after thirty years of political hegemony – Peres was elected party chairman, a post he held until 1992. During this period he was also elected Vice President of the Socialist International.

Peres proposed the establishment of a National Unity Government after the 1984 elections. Peres served two non-consecutive terms as Prime Minister. His first tenure was from September 13, 1984,  to October 20, 1986, based on a rotation arrangement with Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir. From 1986 to 1988, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and, from November 1988 until the dissolution of the National Unity Government in 1990, as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.

He focused his energies on the failing economy and on the complex situation resulting from the 1982 war in Lebanon. He succeeded in enlisting the support of the Histadrut for the difficult steps needed to reduce the annual inflation rate from 400% to 16%. Peres was also instrumental in the withdrawal of troops from Lebanon and the establishment of a narrow security zone in southern Lebanon.

After the return to power of the Labor Party as a result of the 1992 elections, Peres was once again appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. He initiated and conducted the negotiations that led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles with the PLO in September 1993 – which won him the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, together with Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Further negotiations with the Palestinians brought about Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some areas of Judea and Samaria and the establishment of limited Palestinian autonomy, as provided in the Interim Agreement.

In October 1994, the Treaty of Peace with Jordan was signed. Peres subsequently strove to promote relations with additional Arab countries in North Africa and the Persian Gulf – part of his vision of a “New Middle East.”

Peres’ second term as Prime Minister came in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. The Labor Party chose Peres as Rabin’s successor, and the Knesset confirmed the decision with a vote of confidence, supported by both coalition and opposition members.

Peres became Prime Minister and Minister of Defense (November 1995), continuing to serve in this capacity for seven months, until the May 1996 elections. During this trying period, Peres strove to maintain momentum in the peace process, despite a wave of terrorist attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers against Israeli civilians.

In 1996, he founded The Peres Center for Peace. The Center’s mission is to help build an infrastructure for peace by and for the people of the Middle East that promotes socio-economic development while advancing cooperation and mutual understanding. These goals are pursued by developing joint, cooperative projects between Israeli and Arab partners in the fields of economy, culture, education, healthcare, agriculture, and media.

Peres continued to serve as chairman of the Labor Party until June 1997 when former Chief-of-Staff Ehud Barak was elected to succeed him.

From 1996 to 1999, Peres served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and, in 1999, he was also made Honorary President of the Socialist International. Peres served as Minister of Regional Cooperation from July 1999 until March 2001. He was subsequently appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister in the National Unity government headed by Ariel Sharon, serving until October 2002 when he resigned together with the other Labor ministers.

In January 2005, Peres was appointed Vice Premier. In November 2005, Peres was defeated by Amir Peretz in an election for the leadership of the Labor Party. Peres subsequently announced he was quitting the party after more than 60 years to help Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pursue peace with the Palestinians. Prior to the elections to the 17th Knesset, Peres joined the newly founded Kadima Party. In May 2006, Peres was appointed Vice Prime Minister, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee.

On June 13, 2007, the Knesset elected Peres to serve as the Ninth President of Israel for a seven-year term, marking the first time in the nation’s history that a former Prime Minister was also elected as President.

Five years later, on June 13, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for his “meritorious contributions to world peace.”

Peres announced in April 2013 that he would not seek to extend his tenure beyond 2014. His successor, Reuven Rivlin, was elected president on June 10, 2014. At the time of his retirement, Peres was the world’s oldest head of state and was considered the last link to Israel’s founding generation.

In July 2016, Peres founded the Israel innovation center in the Arab neighborhood of Ajami, Jaffa, aiming to encourage young people from around the world to be inspired by technology.

Peres suffered a serious stroke on September 13, 2016. He passed away two weeks later, on September 27, 2016, at age 93.

President Obama flew to Israel to attend his funeral and ordered all flags on U.S. federal property to be flown at half-staff through sunset on September 30, in memory of the last of Israel’s founding fathers. More than 80 foreign leaders attended the funeral on September 29, 2016.

Shimon Peres authored ten books, including The Next Step (1965); David’s Sling; Entebbe Diary (1991), The New Middle East, For the Future of Israel, and Battling for Peace; A Memoir.

Peres was married to Sonya (born Gelman) and had a daughter (Zvia), two sons (Yonathan and Nehemia), and six grandchildren.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Peres Center for Peace.
White House.
“Former Israeli President Shimon Peres suffers stroke,” BBC, (September 13, 2016).