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Shimon Peres

(b. 1923) Polish-born Israeli statesman, Prime Minister 1984–6 and 1995–6; President since 2007


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(b. 16 Aug. 1923).

Prime Minster of Israel 1977, 1984–6, 1995–6

Early career

Born Shimon Peresky at Vishneva, Poland, he arrived in Palestine in 1934. He became active in the kibbutz movement as well as the Haganah. As Haganah's director of manpower from 1947, he was instrumental in the (often illegal) manufacture and purchase of arms by the Haganah and then the Israeli army. He continued in this activity during his studies in New York and at Harvard, and while acting as Director‐General of the Defence Ministry. In addition to enabling Israel's armed forces to withstand any attack with modern weaponry, he also laid the foundations of a domestic defence industry, for example through the creation of aircraft factories. He continued in his office after his election to parliament (Knesset) in 1959.

Peres resigned from the government in 1965 to join Ben‐Gurion's new Rafi party as Secretary‐General. A member of the Labour Party from 1968, he held various ministries from 1969. After Meir's retirement in 1974, he narrowly lost the leadership to Rabin and became Rabin's Minister of Defence, despite their usual disagreements and controversies. Peres and Rabin shared an unusual combination of mutual dislike, bitter rivalry, and respect, which marked not only their relationship but also the fate of the Labour Party from the 1970s until Rabin's death.

Political leadership (1977–99)

Peres challenged Rabin for the leadership in 1977, once again unsuccessfully, but succeeded him when Rabin was forced to retire later in the same year. Unfortunately, his organizational skills, integrity, and vision were disproportionate to his political instincts. In 1977 he became the first socialist Prime Minister to lose an election, and in 1981 he lost to Begin a second time. He won an unconvincing victory in 1984, which compelled him to share power with the Likud Bloc. He conducted the army's withdrawal from most of the Lebanon and presided over some economic austerity measures. Peres again failed to win the 1988 elections and was forced to support Shamir as Finance Minister. He rebelled against the government in 1990, and Shamir formed a government without him. He became leader of the opposition. Never having won convincingly against Likud, he was replaced by his old rival, Rabin, in 1992.

Rabin duly won the elections of the same year and formed a Labour government, with Peres as his foreign minister. Having opposed Likud's confrontational policies towards the Palestinians throughout the 1980s, Peres became the driving force behind a series of talks which culminated in the Oslo Accords of 1993, designed to become the foundation stone of a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East. To achieve this, he persevered against mistrust of the PLO, and the reluctant scepticism of Rabin. He continued to be the main driving force in Israel towards a comprehensive peace settlement, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, together with Rabin and Arafat. After Rabin's assassination in 1995 he became Prime Minister again. Despite initial support for his peace initiatives in the wake of Rabin's murder, he lost the 1996 elections to Netanyahu after a series of devastating suicide bombs by Hamas.

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Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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