Tuesday’s election of Reuven Rivlin as Israel’s next president marks the approaching end of Shimon Peres’ tenure in the post. After seven relatively successful years in the President’s Residence, Peres will apparently be wrapping up 67 years of public service.
After a series of losses and political failures, including a surprise defeat by Moshe Katsav in the July 2000 presidential vote, Peres was chosen Israel’s president on June 13, 2007. After winning 58 votes in the first round of balloting, his two rivals, Rivlin and Colette Avital, dropped out of the second round, leaving the Knesset to vote either for Peres or against — a vote he won handily.
In May 2008, Peres organized the first Facing Tomorrow presidential conference, which to date remains the largest international conference ever held in Israel, with 3,500 participants and 13 heads of state in attendance, including then-U.S. President George Bush. Peres exploited his international stature and turned the conference into one of the central events marking Israel’s 60th anniversary; he also aimed to make the conference an annual event.
In September 2008, after scandal-plagued Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned and Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima party chairman, Peres awarded Livni the task of forming a new government, but she could not cobble together enough support. When she concluded that she could not form a government, Peres, after consulting again with the faction leaders, concluded that a new general election had to be called. After the February 2009 vote, Peres gave Netanyahu the task of forming the government, even though his Likud party had won one seat less than had Kadima.
In January 2011, Peres’ wife Sonia Peres, who rarely appeared in public throughout her husband’s career, died at the age of 87. At her request, she was not given a state funeral and was buried in the cemetery of the Ben Shemen Youth Village where she had grown up. “We have gathered to honor someone who always fled from honor,” Shimon Peres said in his eulogy. “She was the greatest love of my life, and this love will remain in my heart.”
In June 2012, Peres received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award granted by the United States, one of the few foreigners to ever receive it. A year later, in June 2013, during the Facing Tomorrow conference, a big bash was held to mark Peres’ 90th birthday. The budget for that party, 11 million shekels (nearly $3.2 million) generated protests and somewhat reduced the wide public affection for Peres. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who came to Israel for the birthday celebration, said then of Peres, “He is one of the great men of vision in the world. Peres lives in the future, and is always thinking about tomorrow.”
This week, Peres ended his tenure by, at the request of Pope Francis, traveling to the Vatican with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a joint prayer for world peace. Peres, who called the pope “a builder of bridges of friendship,” said, “We all need peace, peace between equals.”
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