Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski, on 2 August 1923 in Wiszniew, then Poland now Belarus. His family migrated to Palestine in 1932 and settled in Tel Aviv. He served as 9th president of Israel from 2007 to 2014 capping a biography that spanned the life of the state of Israel from its earliest days and before.
In 1945, Peres married Sonya Gelman, who preferred to remain outside the public eye. They had three children. She died on 20 January 2011, aged 87.
All of Peres' relatives who remained in Wiszniew in 1941 were murdered during the Holocaust, many of them burned alive in the town's synagogue.
Shimon Peres was twice Prime Minister, member of 12 governments and a member of the Knesset for half a century. As a politician he started out with the ruling Mapai party, moving on to the breakaway Rafi, later the Alignment (extended Mapai), then the Labor party which succeeded the Alignment and finally Kadima, the party founded by the late Ariel Sharon.
An outstanding feature of his political career was the dichotomy between his reputation abroad as an outstanding statesman and his controversial standing at home, which tripped him up in many of his bids for election to party and national leadership.
With David Ben Gurion at Kibbutz Sde Boker. 1969
In 1953, David Ben Gurion appointed him Director General of the new Defense Ministry, putting him charge of vital arms purchases for the fledgling IDF and the forging of the new state’s relations and alliances with foreign nations. He was successful in establishing close ties with France and securing massive amounts of quality arms. In those years, too, he was instrumental in establishing the Dimona nuclear reactor and designing the tripartite accord with France and Britain that led to the 1956 Suez campaign prompted by Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.
His politics shifted radically over the decades. A “hawk” in his early days as a protégé of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan and an early supporter of Jewish settlement on the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War, he later evolved into a “dove” who advocated territorial compromise.
With David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan
Peres gained his first cabinet appointment in 1969, rising in 1974 to become minister of defense in the government formed by the late Yitzhak Rabin, having been Rabin’s chief rival for the post of prime minister after Golda Meir resigned in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In 1977, he again lost to Rabin in the vote for party leader.
And in 1977, he led the Alignment (based on Labor) to its first ever defeat in an election that finally brought the perennial opposition Likud party to power with Menachem Begin as prime minister. When neither Alignment nor Likud was able to muster a majority in the 1984 elections, they set up a unity government with the premiership rotating between the two leaders – Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir.
After his first stint as prime minister, he led his party out of government in 1990.
In early 1992, he was defeated in the first primary elections of the new Israel Labor Party (formed by Rabin to consolidate the Alignment into a single unitary party).
As foreign minister in the Rabin administration, Shimon Peres was the live wire behind the secret negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat which culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. This deal stirred high controversy at home but won great acclaim abroad, winning Peres, Rabin and Arafat a Nobel Peace prize.
The Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-determination in their main cities and reciprocal recognition between Israel and the PLO, also allowed Arafat to return from Tunisian exile.
The accord began to unravel after the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000 and the subsequent outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada at the end of that year.
After Rabin's assassination in 1995, Peres served as Acting Prime Minister and Acting Defense Minister for seven months. In those short months, he tried to maintain the momentum of the peace process but was stalled by the flaming buses blown up by Palestinian terrorists.
In 1996, he was narrowly defeated for the second time by a Likud leader, this time it was Binyamin Netanyahu, in the first direct elections for prime minister.
On 30 November 2005, Peres quit the Labor Party to support Ariel Sharon and his new Kadima party.
On 13 June 2007, he was elected President of the State of Israeli by 58 out of 120 members. During his six years as president, he won some of the popularity that evaded him during his long quest for electoral office as well as international esteem.
In June 2012, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded him by President Barack Obama. Two years later, the US House of Representatives voted on a bill to award him the Congressional Gold Medal with the citation: “The US Congress proclaims its unbreakable bond with Israel.”