Former Israeli President Shimon Peres passed away on Wednesday, September 28, at the age of 93 after suffering a major stroke on September 13 which kept him hospitalized for the past 15 days.
Peres, who was born on August 2, 1923, was the ninth President of Israel, serving from 2007 until 2014. He also served twice as Prime Minister of Israel and was also Interim Prime Minister of that nation twice. He was a member of 12 cabinets in his political career that spanned more than 66 years.
Here are five facts that about Peres that some may not know:
1. He was born in Poland, and then taken to Palestine when he was just 11 years old. He started his activity supporting Israel early in his life. He was only in high school when he joined the Haganah, the underground Jewish self-defense organization. According to Time Magazine’s profile,
“In his early 20s, he persuaded the Histadrut youth movement to support David Ben-Gurion. The statesman soon began to groom Peres for a political career. Wearying of desk jobs in the newly established Ministry of Defense, Peres took off for a brief vacation in the U.S. in 1950. He learned English in three months and took advanced courses in philosophy and economics at New York City’s New School for Social Research, New York University and Harvard.”
2. Peres was one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians which was reached in 1993 and 1995. Those agreements provided Palestinians with limited autonomy and were intended to lead to a permanent peace agreement.
At the time, Peres was foreign minister of Israel, serving under his Labour party rival Yitzhak Rabin. Both he and Rabin, along with Yasser Arafat won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the peace accords.
Peres was also involved in peace efforts with Egypt and Jordan which are the only Arab countries that have a peace agreement with Israel.
3. Peres was an advocate of the two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though he was not always that way. He is famously known as a hawk who turned into a dove. Earlier this year, in an interview with Time Magazine, Peres said “I think it’s the only thing which is possible in order to bring an end to terror, violence and hatred,” referring to the two state solution.
He was converted to supporting peace after 1977, when then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a visit to Jerusalem, a visit that led to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty. Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981.
Though it is widely claimed that he was a hawk who turned into a dove, Peres, himself, did not see it that way. In the Time interview, he said
“I didn’t change, I think the situation has changed. As long as there was a danger to the existence of Israel, I was what you would call a hawk … The minute I felt that Arabs are open to negotiation, I said that’s what we prefer too.”
4. He was known as Israel’s last remaining founding father. In his career which spanned over 6 decades, he held nearly every major office in Israel’s government. He was twice the Prime Minister, once between 1984 and 1986, and again from 1995 to 1996, after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
He was President from 2007 to 2014. The role of president is largely seen as ceremonial in Israel’s government. He also served terms as foreign, defense and finance minister of the nation.
5. Shimon Peres actually oversaw the development of Israel’s nuclear program with assistance from France. He did that in the 1950’s in his role as Director General of the Defense Ministry.
Though Israel is seen as the only nuclear nation in the Middle East, it has never officially made such a disclosure, keeping the information one that falls in the category of speculation. Israel has used its nuclear program strategically. For example, in the Time interview, Peres said “Dimona (the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor) helped us to achieve Oslo.”