Shimon Peres witnessed Israel’s history, and shaped it 

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush also issued statements of mourning, as did former British Prime Minister Tony Blair - Sakshi Post

Jerusalem: At every corner of Israel's tumultuous history, Shimon Peres was there. He was a young aide to the nation's founding fathers when the country declared independence in 1948, and he played a key role in turning Israel into a military power.

He was part of the negotiations that sealed the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, garnering a Nobel Peace Prize. He was welcomed like royalty in world capitals. But only at the end of a political career stretching more than 60 years did Peres finally win the widespread admiration of his own people that had eluded him for so long.

He died at 93 early Wednesday, his son, Chemi, confirmed at the hospital where Shimon Peres had been treated for the past two weeks. Peres began a new chapter at age 83, assuming the nation's presidency following a scandal that forced his predecessor to step down.

The job cemented Peres' transformation from down-and-dirty political operator to elder statesman. After such a long career, let me just say something: My appetite to manage is over. My inclination to dream and to envisage is greater, Peres told The Associated Press in an interview on July 15, 2007, moments before he was sworn in as president.

He said he would not allow his age, or the constraints of a largely ceremonial office, to slow him down. I'm not in a hurry to pass away, Peres said. The day will come that I shall not forget to pass away. But until then, I'm not going to waste my life.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement mourning the passing of Peres. He said he will convene his Cabinet for a special session later in the day. Former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said they had lost a true and treasured friend with the death of Shimon Peres.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush also issued statements of mourning, as did former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. As president, Peres tirelessly jetted around the world to represent his country at conferences, ceremonies and international gatherings. He was a fixture at the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, where he was treated like a rock star as the world's rich and powerful listened breathlessly to his every word, on topics ranging from Mideast peace to nanotechnology to the wonders of the human brain.

He also became Israel's moderate face at a time when the nation was led by hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Peres sought to reassure the international community that Israel seeks peace, despite concerns over continued settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and the paralysis of negotiations under Netanyahu. Still, while Peres never tired of speaking of peace, he tended to avoid strident criticism of Netanyahu.

It was his 1994 Nobel Prize that established Peres' man-of-peace image. He proudly displayed the prize which he shared with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the desk of his presidential office.

As foreign minister, Peres secretly brokered the historic Oslo interim peace accords with the Palestinians, signed at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993. Accepting the award, he told assembled dignitaries that war, as a method of conducting human affairs, is in its death throes, and the time has come to bury it.

Despite the assassination of Rabin, the breakdown of peace talks, a second Palestinian uprising in 2000, wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and Netanyahu's continued re-elections, Peres maintained his insistence that peace was right around the corner. I'm sure I shall see peace in my lifetime. Even if I should have to extend my life for a year or two, I won't hesitate, he said in a 2013 interview marking his 90th birthday.

Peres was born Shimon Perski on Aug. 2, 1923 in Vishniev, then part of Poland and now in Belarus. He moved to pre-state Palestine in 1934 with his family, where he changed his surname to Peres, or songbird, in Hebrew.

Relatives who remained in Poland, including his grandfather, a prominent rabbi, were killed when Nazis set a synagogue on fire during the Holocaust. Peres often spoke lovingly of his grandfather in speeches. The actress Lauren Bacall was a cousin. Still in his 20s, Peres rose quickly through the ranks of Israel's pre-state leadership, and served as a top aide to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, after independence in 1948.

Peres once called Ben-Gurion the greatest Jew of our time. At 29, he served as director of Israel's Defense Ministry, and is credited with arming Israel's military almost from scratch. He later worked with the French to develop Israel's nuclear program, which today is widely believed to include a large arsenal of bombs.

Still, he suffered throughout his political career from the fact that he never wore an army uniform or fought in a war. Peres was elected to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in 1959, serving in nearly all major Cabinet posts over his long career. As finance minister, he imposed an emergency plan to halt triple-digit inflation in the 1980s.

He also was an early supporter of the Jewish settler movement in the West Bank, a position he would later abandon. But he had trouble breaking into the prime minister's post, the top job in Israeli politics. He was hampered by a reputation among the public and fellow politicians as both a utopian dreamer and a political schemer.

He ran for prime minister in five general elections, losing four and tying one, in 1984, when he shared the job in a rotation with his rival Yitzhak Shamir. His well-tailored, neck-tied appearance, swept-back gray hair and penchant for artists and intellectuals seemed to separate him from his more informal countrymen. He never lost his Polish accent, making him a target for mimicry.

AP


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