PERES, Shimon

Shimon Peres was born in Poland in 1923 – his name was then Persky – and emigrated to Palestine with his family in 1934. He early joined several left wing Zionist movements and became a leader of the Haganah (main Jewish armed group at that time in Palestine). He supervized the militarization of Israel.

He entered political life in 1959 when he was elected to the Knesset for Mapai (main component of the Labour Party created in 1968) and has been a member of Knesset ever since. First appointed in a government as Deputy Minister of Defence from 1960 to 1965, he became Minister without Portofolio in 1969, and successively Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Transport and Communications until 1974 when he briefly was Minister of Information and then Minister of Defence from 1974 to 1977. He then succeeded Yitzhak Rabin as acting Prime Minister and was appointed leader of the Labour Party. In the elections of 1977, his party was defeated and Peres became the leader of the opposition until 1984.

He then signed a coalition and rotation agreement with the Likud and from 1984 to 1986 he was Prime Minister; after the rotation with Yitzhak Shamir he became Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister from 1986 to 1988. In this capacity he tried to find a solution to the Palestinian question with Jordan but these peace moves were rejected by Prime Minister Shamir. He then became Minister of Finance in another coalition government from 1988 to 1990 and again became leader of the opposition between 1990 and 1992. He was defeated in 1992 by Yitzhak Rabin for leadership of the Labour Party.

After the victory of the Labour Party in 1992 he again became Foreign Minister with the firm conviction – which he finally managed to get adopted by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – that Israel should negotiate with the PLO in order to get a peace settlement. It was Peres who, on 13 September 1993, signed for Israel the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Agreement) (see « Oslo peace process ») which was reached with the PLO after secret negotiations in Oslo.

As Foreign Minister and main architect of the process started in Oslo, Peres concentrated on the follow-up of the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1994 together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

After Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, Peres was appointed Prime Minister and reaffirmed his willing to pursue the peace process. Reluctant to make use of the wave of sympathy among the Israeli public opinion following Rabin’s death, Peres decided nonetheless to bring forward to May 1996 the elections scheduled for November. In April 1996, he ordered a large military offensive in Southern Lebanon – called operation « Grapes of Wrath » – to break down the organization of Hezbollah Shia resistance. On the 29 May 1996, the Labour Party lost the parliamentary elections and Peres was defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu in the first direct elections for the position of Prime Minister in Israël.

Known to be a « realistic dove », Peres has the vision of an integrated Middle East in which Israel would have a pivotal role politically and economically. Less popular than Rabin, he is often presented as a political loser. Although, after his electoral defeat of 1996 (at the age of 73), his political career seemed to have come to an end, he nevertheless joined as minister for Regional Co-operation the government led by Ehud Barak after the elections of April 1999. In July 2000, he suffered another personal defeat when, after the resignation of Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav was elected President of Israel by the Knesset.

Peres made a political come back after Ehud Barak’s electoral defeat on 6 February 2001. He became minister for Foreign Affairs in the seven-party government of Ariel Sharon on 7 March 2001.