Peres, Shimon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Peres, Shimon

Shimon Peres (shē´mōn pâr´ĕs), 1923–, Israeli politician, b. Vishniva, Poland (now in Belarus) as Shimon Perski. He and his parents emigrated to Palestine in 1934; his grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. Before the birth of the Israeli nation (1949) he served as manpower chief of the Haganah, the fledgling Jewish military. He subsequently was Israel's head of naval services and became director-general of the defense ministry in 1952.

Peres was first elected to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in 1959. Instrumental in the formation of the Labor party (1968), Peres was minister of defense from 1974 to 1977, when he was elected party chairman. After losing two bids (1977 and 1981) for the prime ministership, he alternated (1984–86) in the office with Likud party leader Yitzhak Shamir in a national unity government and was widely praised for helping to remove Israeli troops from Lebanon and for slashing runaway inflation. He was later foreign minister (1986) and, after again losing to Shamir (1988), finance minister in unity governments led by the prime minister.

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin, who had just ousted Peres as Labor party leader, became prime minister and appointed Peres foreign minister. Peres negotiated the historic Oslo peace accords (1993) with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), for which he was awarded, with Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat, the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. In Nov., 1995, Rabin was assassinated, and Peres succeeded him as prime minister and defense minister. In the May, 1996, elections he narrowly lost the prime ministership to the Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu.

After the 1999 election of Ehud Barak as prime minister, Peres was named minister of regional cooperation. In 2000 he was defeated in a Knesset election for the largely ceremonial position of president of Israel. Following Barak's defeat (2001) by Ariel Sharon, Peres became foreign minister in a government of national unity (2001–2) and later vice prime minister in a Likud-and-Labor-dominated coalition government (2005). Meanwhile, he again became party leader in 2003, but lost the post in late 2005 to union leader Amir Peretz. Subsequently, Peres lent his support to Sharon's formation (2005) of the centrist Kadima party. Under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sharon's successor, Peres served (2006–7) as vice prime minister and minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee. In 2007 he was elected president of Israel, a largely ceremonial post.

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