President Shimon Peres - Seventy years of public service
Seventy years of public service
Shimon Peres (Perski) was born in 1923 in Visnieva, Belarus to his father Yitzhak, a wealthy timber merchant, and his mother Sarah (nee Melzer), a volunteer librarian. In 1934 he migrated to Israel (then Mandatory Palestine) and lived with his family in Tel Aviv. At first he studied at the "Balfour" and "Geulah" schools and was later educated at the "Ben Shemen" agricultural school. At 17 he left at the head of a Working "and Learning Youth" group from "Ben Shemen" for settlement training at the Geva kibbutz in the Harod Valley. The group joined the founders of the Alumot Kibbutz in the Lower Galilee, where he worked as a shepherd, a dairy farmer and as the kibbutz secretary. At the age of 20 he was elected to the "Working and Learning Youth" national secretariat.
In the secretariat he was in a pro-Ben Gurion minority. Only 2 of the 12 members supported the historical party of Mapai. He surprised everyone when three years later he took over the movement and won a majority. It was seen a shocking surprise.
Berl Katzenelson and Ben Gurion began to show an interest in the unknown youth, and despite his tender age appointed him to Mapai's secretariat. Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan were chosen as the two youth delegates in the Mapai delegation to the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946.
Yitzhak, Shimon Peres's father, volunteered at the outbreak of World War 2 with the British military, served with the sappers corps in Greece and was taken prisoner by the Germans. While in captivity Perski befriended an English prisoner named Charles Coward ("the Count of Auschwitz") who saved Jews from the Birkenau extermination camp. With the help of Coward, Yitzhak managed to escape the POW camp and was even awarded a medal for bravery. He was sentenced to death but was saved at the last moment by an Australian priest who stood between him and the firing squad.
In 1945 Shimon Peres married his girlfriend Sonia, nee Gellman, whom he met while at school in Ben Shemen. They built their home at kibbutz Alumot. The couple had three children: Tzvia Valdan (a doctor of philology), Yehonatan Peres (a veterinary MD) and Nehemiah Peres (an engineer, managing partner and founder of a venture capital fund). Shimon Peres is grandfather to eight grandchildren and great-grandfather to three great-grandchildren.
Shimon Peres served as a Member of Knesset for 48 years, the longest term of service in the history of the Israeli Knesset. He served as Minister in 12 cabinets and served twice as Prime Minister (1984-1986, 1995-1996), Deputy Minister of Defense under Ben Gurion (1959-1965), Treasury Minister (1988-1990), Minister of Defense (1974-1977, 1995-1996), and Foreign Minister (1986-1988, 2001-2002). In 2007 Shimon Peres was elected to serve as the ninth President of the State of Israel.
Youngest Director of the Ministry of Defense - Defensive Initiative
At the age of 24 Peres was recruited to the "Hagana" headquarters. He was tasked with special assignments mostly involving personnel, defensive acquisitions and military research. In 1949 Peres was appointed head of the naval service, and after the War of Independence he was appointed head of the Ministry of Defense delegation to the United States. Upon his return to Israel in 1952, at age 29, David Ben Gurion appointed him first as substitute and then as Director General of the Ministry of Defense. Peres focused his efforts on re-organizing the Ministry of Defense, finding the IDF supply sources for modern weaponry and developing the Israeli defense industry. He forged special personal and political ties with France and its leaders and defense establishment. For ten years an extraordinary relationship existed between France and Israel - a period considered the golden age in the relationship between the two countries, and which brought about unprecedented cooperation in the fields of defense and diplomacy. Peres was the architect of this relationship, and for this was awarded the highest medal of the French Legion of Honor.
Later he established a special relationship with Germany, which contributed to the strengthening of Israel's security. At the same time he laid the foundations for the aerospace industry, the electronics industry, renovated the military industry and founded Rafael - the Armaments Development Authority (now known as "Rafael - Advanced Defense Systems LTD"). Ben Gurion appointed him to head the effort to establish Israel's nuclear reactors, one at Dimona and another at Nachal Sorek.
In 1956 Peres stood, along with Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and under the leadership of Ben Gurion, at the center of negotiations with France and preparations for the Sinai War (aka "Operation Kadesh"). In 1959, after he was first elected to the Israeli Knesset, he was appointed as the deputy to Minister of Defense David Ben Gurion, and served in this capacity for six years. During his term at the Ministry of Defense Shimon Peres headed Israel's research, production, and acquisition front and his initiative brought about the establishment of the aerospace industry, the electronic and nuclear industries, and the Armaments Development Authority.
48 Years as a Member of Knesset
In 1965 Ben Gurion left the Eretz Israel Workers Party (Mapai) and established the "Israeli Workers List" ("Raf"I"). Ben Gurion asked Peres to join him and Peres acquiesced. He resigned his position as Deputy Minister of Defense to Levi Eshkol, and was elected as secretary-general of the new party. In 1968 Raf"I re-united with Mapai and with the "Achdut HaAvoda" party to form the "Israeli Labor Party". Peres was one of the forces behind the move and for over a year served as joint deputy to Golda Meir, when she served as secretary of the united party.
In 1977, as a result of the abrupt resignation of then-Prime Minister and party chairman Yitzhak Rabin, Peres was chosen unanimously to replace him at the head of the "Maarach" ("Array", a united list of Labor and Mapa"m). Likud won the elections to the ninth Knesset and the Maarach won only 32 seats in the Knesset. Peres served as the chairman of the Labor party until 1992. Under his leadership the Maarach grew within four years (from 1977 to 1981) from 32 seats in the ninth Knesset to 47 seats in the tenth Knesset, only one short of the 48 seats won by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Likud party.
Peres served as party chairman for 18 years. He resumed the post after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin from 1995-1997, and was elected again as chairman from 2003-2005.
In 2005 Shimon Peres agreed to the invitation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to join him in the founding of a new party. The background for this was Sharon's departure from the Likud party and his acceptance of a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of the "two states for two peoples" principle, beginning with the unilateral evacuation of the Gaza Strip. Peres left the Labor party, his political home of decades, and joined Sharon in founding the new party - "Kadima".
With Sharon's approval he held secret peace negotiations with Abu Ala. They reached an agreement approved by Sharon, but Sharon demanded a long period of time to implement the agreement, which the Palestinians refused to grant.
Shimon Peres served as a Minister in 12 cabinets. His first positions as Minister were - Minister of Immigration Absorption and in charge economic development in the Administered Territories (1969), followed by Minister of Transportation and Postal Services (later renamed Ministry of Communication) under Golda Meir (1970). In the first Rabin administration he served as Minister of Defense. During this term Peres devoted most of his efforts to the restoration of the IDF, which was badly damaged in the Yom Kippur War. He initiated the Entebbe Operation ("Operation Yonatan") which was approved by the Rabin government and succeeded in rescuing most of the kidnapped Israelis from Uganda.
Concurrent with his efforts to fortify the country's security, he worked diligently to bring peace. He was Prime Minister Rabin's partner in securing the interim agreement with Egypt, which served as the basis for the peace agreement signed under the Begin administration. He initiated the construction of the "Good Fence" on the border with Lebanon. Following the resignation of Yitzhak Rabin in 1977 he served as Acting Prime Minister until the elections to the ninth Knesset.
The 1984 elections resulted in a tie between Maarach and Likud. A government of national unity was formed and Shimon Peres served as the first Prime Minister in a "rotation government". Under his leadership the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, save for a security strip in Southern Lebanon based on local Lebanese forces ("The South Lebanon Army").
As Prime Minister Peres led the "Economic Stabilization Plan" that saved the Israeli economy from collapse and reduced the hyper-inflation which reached 400% a year.
In 1986, while serving as Substitute Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Peres held negotiations and secured a far-reaching peace agreement which included Israeli-Jordanian cooperation in administrating the West Bank (The London Agreement). The agreement was foiled due to opposition from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
In 1992, upon the establishment of the second Rabin government, Peres was appointed as Foreign Minister.
On November 4, 1995, Israel was shocked as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an assassin at a peace rally headlined by Rabin and Peres. After the appalling murder Shimon Peres was appointed Prime Minister of Israel. He served in this post until the direct elections for Prime Minister and for the 14th Knesset in 1996, in which Binyamin Netanyahu won by a margin of less than one percent.
During his term in office, and pursuant to the Oslo B agreement, he transferred 360 villages and six towns and enabled the holding of free municipal elections, including in Jerusalem. In 1999 Peres was appointed Minister of Regional Cooperation in Ehud Barak's government, and in 2001 he was appointed Foreign Minister under Ariel Sharon, until Labor left that government in 2002.
In 2005 Peres was appointed as Vice Prime Minister under Prime Minister Sharon and aided him in carrying out the plan of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. During this period Peres focused on economic relations with the Palestinians and created The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Man of Peace - For a New Middle East
During Peres's term as Foreign Minister in the second Rabin administration he was in charge, in cooperation with Yitzhak Rabin, of the peace process with the Palestinians. He directed the covert negotiations in Oslo, at the end of which the agreement was signed by Foreign Ministry Director Uri Savir and Palestinian Authority representative Abu Ala, in the presence of Shimon Peres. This signing, and the letters of mutual recognition exchanged by Rabin and Arafat, led to the signing of the "Declaration of Principles Regarding Interim Self-Government Arrangements" at a festive ceremony held at the White House (September 13, 1992), by Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat, and US President Bill Clinton, where Peres and Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) signed the agreement. Rabin, Arafat, and Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1994.
Peres developed and maintained a special and secret relationship with King Hussein of Jordan for many years, leading to negotiations under Rabin and a peace agreement with Jordan that was eventually signed in 1994.
In 1996 work was begun on the "Peres Peace Center" which deals in initiating and operating joint projects with our Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian neighbors in the fields of economy, culture, education, sports, computer sciences, agriculture, communications and medicine. An important project carried out by the Center is the treatment of injured and ill Palestinian children at hospitals in Israel. So far some 8,000 children have been treated and cured under this arrangement. The Center also operates a program for training hundreds of Palestinian doctors in special internships in Israeli hospitals.
A Man of Letters - The President's Book Case
Peres is known as a well-read man who maintains close contacts with writers and thinkers in Israel and abroad. Peres has authored several books himself including:
• The Next Step (Am HaSefer Press, 1965)
• David's Sling (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1970)
• Tomorrow Now (Along with Haggai Eshed, Keter Press, 1978)
• Go With the People (Idanim Press, 1979)
• Entebbe Log (Idanim Press, 1991)
• "The New Middle East", along with Aryeh Naor (Stimatzky Press, 1993), translated into over 30 languages.
• Reading Log, Letters to Writers (Yediot Aharonot Press, 1994)
• Battling for Peace, with David Landau (Random House, 1995)
• A New Genesis (Zmora Bitan Press, 1998)
• The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodore Herzl in Israel (Zmora Bitan Press, 1999)
• Un Temps Pour La Guerre, Un Temps Pour La Paix (with Robert Laffont, France, 2004)
• The War Was Long and the Peace was Hard (along with former UN Secretary General Boutrous Boutrous Ghali and Andre Versaille).
• Additional books are in print.
In addition to these, Shimon Peres has published hundreds of articles in newspapers and periodicals in Israel and abroad.
President of the State - for Israel at Home and Abroad
On July 15, 2007 Shimon Peres was sworn in as the ninth President of the State of Israel. From the Residence of the Presidents of Israel he continues with increased vigor to carry out his long-time work as a leading man, a visionary and a statesman.
• In the course of the events marking Israel's 60th anniversary, President Peres initiated and hosted the "President of Israel Conference 2008" (May 2008). Over 5,000 guests from 50 countries participated in the conference, among them presidents and prime ministers, members of parliaments, Nobel Prize winners, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs and businessmen. The conference took place for a second time (October 2009) with new themes and participants. President Peres enjoys international and domestic popularity, and he advances the interests of the State of Israel at home and abroad in the course of his duties as President.
• Focusing on development of High-Tech in Israel, with a special emphasis on Nano-technology, and encouraging Israeli researchers and scientists and science-loving youth. To this end many donations have been raised for universities and research centers.
• Supporting the protection of the environment, the use of alternative energies and the protection of natural assets. He gave the main Israeli speech at the Copenhagen conference and committed on behalf of the Israeli government to curb the use of pollutants.
• Initiating the "IDF Academy", which is meant to turn the IDF into a university in addition to its being a fighting force. This plan is intended to afford the soldiers of the IDF an academic education in the course of their military service.
• As President he continues to uphold the tradition of the bible classes and has added a literature class and a young leaders class. This in addition to intellectual gatherings that regularly take place at the President's Residence.
• On his weekly tours around the country President Peres maintains direct contact with all sectors of Israeli society. He works diligently to promote civil equality for minority populations, to reduce social gaps and promote affirmative action for weak and marginal populations. In addition Peres focuses on emphasizing the value of education as a tool of personal empowerment and of maximizing the human resource in the State of Israel.
• President Peres maintains close relations with Jewish communities in the Diaspora and nurtures their connection to Israel. He is considered a senior statesman of the world. In his public appearances and visits abroad he turns the spotlight to Israel's great achievements and beautiful sides, and to its people's yearning for peace.
• Peres recognized Shay Agassi's proposal for the production of an electric car. The project was underway within a year. Now the President is focused on promoting the Israeli Brain Center. On the basis of research conducted by a group of scientists and the McKinsey corporation, he has formulated a plan of action which is now taking shape.