A Nobel Peace Prize, three brief stints as prime minister, ministerial posts in 12 cabinets and continuous parliamentary membership since the Fourth Knesset - those are the highlights of Shimon Peres' 66-year career in Israeli public life, which he is about to cap off with the presidency.
What is unusual about Peres' biography is not just his accomplishments to date, but the fact that Peres, who has written 11 books and has promoted the development of Israel's security industry, never attended university or served in the army. He has also managed to survive a series of political losses.
Peres was born Shimon Persky on August 2, 1923, in eastern Poland. He moved to Israel with his family in 1934, attended the Ben-Shemen Agricultural School and became one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot, where he worked as a dairy farmer, shepherd and secretary.
Peres, now 83, embarked on public life in 1941, when he was appointed secretary general of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement. He married Sonia in 1945, and they now have three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Peres met his political patron - Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion - in 1947, while working at the headquarters of the Haganah prestate army. Peres became the Defense Ministry's director general in 1953, at the age of 29. He was elected to the Knesset for the first time in 1959 and was appointed deputy defense minister, a position he held until 1965.
In the 16 years of his involvement in security affairs, Peres put his stamp on the establishment of military industry, the development of security ties with France and the founding of the nuclear reactor in Dimona.
In 1965, Peres began a new chapter in his life when he quit the Mapai party, the forerunner of Labor, in Ben-Gurion's wake and became the secretary general of Ben-Gurion's new party, Rafi. Two years later, after Rafi bombed in the elections, Peres went off on his own to become one of the founders of the Labor Party, which brought together Rafi, Mapai and Ahdut Ha'avoda parties. Between 1969 and 1974, Peres served as minister in both of Golda Meir's governments. He was appointed defense minister in 1974, after losing the Labor leadership race to Yitzhak Rabin; during his term, Peres presided over the successful rescue of Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, and allowed the Gush Emunim settlement movement to settle in Samaria.
In February 1977, after Rabin's government fell, Peres lost his second race against Rabin for the Labor leadership, but took Rabin's place two months later when Rabin resigned in the wake of scandal. Peres lost the premiership to Menachem Begin of the Likud and ran unsuccessfully against Begin again in a stormy 1981 race.
In 1984, amid wild inflation and the Lebanon War, Peres formed a unity government with Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud. Peres, who served as prime minister in the first two years of the government, was behind the emergency plan to stabilize the economy and the partial withdrawal from Lebanon.
A Peres-led Labor Party became a junior partner in another unity government headed by Shamir in 1988. Two years later, in the wake of Shamir's refusal to advance the peace process, Peres led what is known as the "stinking maneuver," an attempt to topple the Shamir government. The government fell in a no-confidence vote, but Peres failed in his efforts to form a government himself. In February 1992, Peres lost the Labor leadership to Rabin for the third time, and was appointed foreign minister when the party won the general elections.
Peres led the Oslo Accords process in 1993 and signed the initial peace deal with Mahmoud Abbas. In 1994, after a lobbying campaign, Peres was added as the third recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Peres was identified with the vision of "a new Middle East," based on a peace founded upon cooperation and economic development.
After Rabin was assassinated in November 1995, Peres filled in as prime minister until the next elections, which he lost to the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu.
Peres ran unsuccessfully against Moshe Katsav for president in 2000. He led the Labor Party several times between 2001 and 2005 and served in the cabinet under Ariel Sharon. Peres quit Labor in 2005 to join Kadima after losing to Amir Peretz in the primary.
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