Shimon Peres (Hebrew: שמעון פרס, born Szymon Perski; 2 August 1923) is a Polish-born Israeli statesman. He is the ninth and current President of the State of Israel. Peres served twice as the Prime Minister of Israel and once as Interim Prime Minister, and has been a member of 12 cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years. Peres was elected to the Knesset in November 1959 and, except for a three-month-long hiatus in early 2006, served continuously until 2007, when he became President.
He held several diplomatic and military positions during and directly after Israel’s War of Independence. His first high-level government position was as Deputy Director-General of Defense in 1952, and Director-General in 1953 through 1959. During his career, he has represented five political parties in the Knesset: Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labor and Kadima, and has led Alignment and Labor. Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the peace talks that he participated in as Israeli Foreign Minister, producing the Oslo Accords.
Peres was nominated in early 2007 by Kadima to run in that year’s presidential election, and was elected by the Knesset to the presidency on 13 June 2007 and sworn into office on 15 July 2007 for a seven-year term. He is the first former Prime Minister to be elected President of Israel.
At the age of 89, Peres is the world’s oldest head of state.
In 1947, Peres joined the Haganah, the predecessor of the Israel Defense Forces. David Ben-Gurion made him responsible for personnel and arms purchases.
In 1952, he was appointed Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, and the following year, he became Director-General. At age 29, he was the youngest person to hold this position. He was involved in arms purchases and establishing strategic alliances that were important for the State of Israel. He was instrumental in establishing close relations with France, securing massive amounts of quality arms that, in turn, helped to tip the balance of power in the region. Owing to Peres’ mediation, Israel acquired the advanced Dassault Mirage III French jet fighter, established the Dimona nuclear reactor and entered into a tri-national agreement with France and the United Kingdom, positioning Israel in what would become the 1956 Suez Crisis.
Peres was first elected to the Knesset in the 1959 elections, as a member of the Mapai party. He was given the role of Deputy Defense Minister, which he fulfilled until 1965. Peres and Moshe Dayan left Mapai with David Ben-Gurion to form a new party, Rafi, which reconciled with Mapai and joined the Alignment (a left-wing alliance) in 1968.
Much of Peres’ political career was marked by a political and personal feud with his contemporary Yitzhak Rabin, reflecting an older feud between their respective mentors, the relatively conservative Dayan and the militantly socialist Yigal Allon of the splinter Ahdut Ha’avodah party. They continued their feud within the newly formed framework after their factions joined Mapai in the Alignment in 1968.
In 1969, Peres was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption and in 1970 became Minister of Transportation and Communications. In 1974, after a period as Information Minister, he was appointed Minister of Defense in the Yitzhak Rabin government, having been Rabin’s chief rival for the post of Prime Minister after Golda Meir resigned in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. During this time, Peres continued to challenge Rabin for the chairmanship of the party, but in 1977, he again lost to Rabin in the party elections. Peres came to be known in these years as the main patron of the West Bank settler movement, which was opposed by Rabin. In contrast to Rabin, who favored returning the West Bank to Jordan in the framework of negotiations, Peres favored Dayan’s vision of a so-called functional compromise in which Israel would retain territorial control and Jordan would be offered jurisdiction over the population.
Peres succeeded Rabin as party leader prior to the 1977 elections when Rabin stepped down in the wake of a foreign currency scandal involving his wife. As Rabin could not legally resign from the transition government, he officially remained Prime Minister, while Peres became the unofficial acting Prime Minister. Peres led the Alignment to its first ever electoral defeat, when Likud under Menachem Begin won sufficient seats to form a coalition that excluded the left. After only a month on top, Peres assumed the role of opposition leader. After turning back a comeback bid by Rabin in 1980 Peres led his party to another, narrower, loss in the 1981 elections.
In 1984, the Alignment won more seats than any other party but failed to muster the majority of 61 mandates needed to form a left-wing coalition. Alignment and Likud agreed to an unusual “rotation” arrangement in which Peres would serve as Prime Minister and the Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir would be Foreign Minister. A highlight of this time in office was a trip to Morocco to confer with King Hassan II. Also during this period Peres introduced an economic program that successfully reduced inflation from the disaster 400% hyperinflation of the Begin years to a more manageable 16%, largely by nationalizing the bank, freezing wages and prices and renegotiating loans sector by sector. His success confounded predictions by economists including U.S. secretary of state George Shultz that hyperinflation at that level could not be brought under control except by suspending democracy.
As prime minister Peres assembled a group of liberal-minded young aides, including Yossi Beilin, Avraham Burg and Haim Ramon, who became known derisively by right-wing critics as “Peres’ poodles.”
After two years, Peres and Shamir traded places. In 1986 he became foreign minister. In April 1987 Peres and King Hussein of Jordan met secretly in London and concluded the so-called London Agreement. They agreed to convene an international conference on Middle East peace at which Jordan would represent the Palestinians, sidelining the PLO and leading to Jordan’s resumption of sovereignty over the West Bank. On Peres’ return, Shamir rejected the agreement. That December the first Intifada broke out, firmly establishing the PLO’s leadership among Palestinians in the territories, and in the summer of 1988 King Hussein renounced any Jordanian responsibility for the Palestinians.
In November 1988, the Alignment led by Peres suffered another narrow defeat. He agreed to renew the coalition with the Likud, this time conceding the premiership to Shamir for the entire term. In the national unity government of 1988–90, Peres served as Vice Premier and Minister of Finance. He and the Alignment finally left the government in 1990, after “the dirty trick” – a failed bid to form a narrow government based on a coalition of the Alignment, small leftist factions and ultra-orthodox parties.
From 1990, Peres led the opposition in the Knesset, until, in early 1992, he was defeated in the first primary elections of the new Israeli Labor Party (which had been formed by the consolidation of the Alignment into a single unitary party) by Yitzhak Rabin, whom he had replaced fifteen years earlier. Peres remained active in politics, however, serving as Rabin’s foreign minister from 1992. Secret negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s PLO, led by Yossi Beilin under Peres’ supervision, led to the Oslo Accords, which won Peres, Rabin and Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Peres served as Acting Prime Minister and Acting Defense Minister for seven months until the 1996 elections, during which he attempted to maintain the momentum of the peace process.
During his term, Peres promoted the use of the Internet in Israel and created the first website of an Israeli prime minister. However, he was narrowly defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu in the first direct elections for Prime Minister in 1996. In 1997 he did not seek re-election as Labor Party leader and was replaced by Ehud Barak. Barak rebuffed Peres’s attempt to secure the position of party president and upon forming a government in 1999 appointed Peres to the minor post of Minister of Regional Co-operation.
In 2000 Peres ran for a seven-year term as Israel’s President, a ceremonial head of state position, which usually authorizes the selection of Prime Minister. Had he won, as was expected, he would have been the first ex-Prime Minister to be elected President. However, he lost to Likud candidate Moshe Katsav.
Following Ehud Barak’s defeat by Ariel Sharon in the 2001 direct election for Prime Minister, Peres made yet another comeback. He led Labor into a national unity government with Sharon’s Likud and secured the post of Foreign Minister. The formal leadership of the party passed to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and in 2002 to Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna. Peres was much criticized on the left for clinging to his position as Foreign Minister in a government that was not seen as advancing the peace process, despite his own dovish stance. He left office only when Labor resigned in advance of the 2003 elections. After the party under the leadership of Mitzna suffered a crushing defeat, Peres again emerged as interim leader. He led the party into coalition with Sharon once more at the end of 2004 when the latter’s support of “disengagement” from Gaza presented a diplomatic program Labor could support.
Peres won the chairmanship of the Labor Party in 2005, in advance of the 2006 elections. As party leader, Peres favored pushing off the elections for as long as possible. He claimed that an early election would jeopardize both the September 2005 Gaza withdrawal plan and the standing of the party in a national unity government with Sharon. However, the majority pushed for an earlier date, as younger members of the party, among them Ophir Pines-Paz and Isaac Herzog, overtook established leaders such as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Haim Ramon, in the party ballot to divide up government portfolios. Peres continually led in the polls, defying predictions that rivals would overtake him. Peres lost the leadership election with 40% to Peretz’s 42.4%.