This week in Jewish history | Former Israeli President, Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres passes away

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This week in Jewish history | Former Israeli President, Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres passes away

On 28 September 2016, two weeks after suffering a crippling stroke, former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres passed away at the age of 93.    

In honor of the fourth anniversary of his passing, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder wrote the following in The Jerusalem Post: “President Shimon Peres was a renaissance man of breathtaking intellectual horizons. One of the architects of the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland, Shimon was a man of peace who never lost hope that Israel would one day live in harmony with its Arab neighbors. His legacy and leadership set the stage for the momentous signing of the Abraham Accords by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.” 

Born in Wiszniew, Poland (present-day Belarus) in 1923, Peres was a distinguished public servant. During his long career Peres served as president (2007-2014), prime minister (1984–86 and 1995–96), and leader of Israel’s Labour Party (1977–92, 1995–97, and 2003–05) among other roles. 

After Israel declared its independence on 14 May 1948, Prime Minister Ben Gurion entrusted the 24-year-old Peres to procure military equipment from abroad. Peres would go on to serve his country in many different posts, including as deputy director general of the Ministry of Defense, director general, and deputy defense minister. In 1967, Peres initiated merger negotiations between the left-wing Mapai party and the more centralist Ahdut Avodah, leading to the establishment of the Labour Party. Peres would go on to serve as its deputy secretary-general and as defense minister in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet in 1974. 

In 1984, Peres became prime minister as a result of a power-sharing agreement with Likud Chairman Yitzhak Shamir. During his first tenure as prime minister, Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon, in which it had been mired in a costly engagement in which it sustained hundreds of casualties 

Despite losing a heated leadership primary to Rabin, Peres was appointed foreign minister following Rabin’s election in July 1992. In that position, Peres worked closely with Rabin to implement a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

On 13 September 1993, Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiator Mahmoud Abbas signed the first of two historic agreements laying a foundation for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on a two-state solution by signing the Oslo Accords at the South Lawn of the White House. The agreement, formally known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, was the result of secret negotiations between Israel and the PLO in Oslo, Norway, earlier in the year.  

While Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Arafat and Peres would ultimately be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1994 for their “efforts to create peace in the Middle East,” the agreement has yet to lead to a final peace deal after several setbacks, including Rabin’s assassination by an Israeli extremist in 1995. In the wake of Rabin’s murder, Peres served as prime minister until his narrow reelection defeat by Benjamin Netanyahu.  

In July 2000 Peres ran for president against Moshe Katzav and was defeated 63:57. In 2007, Peres announced his intention to run again for the largely ceremonial position. Explaining his decision, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran Israeli politician said: "The president does not have a lot of power, but he has the authority to do good deeds and to express enthusiastic faith.” After being elected, he became the first Israeli to have served as both prime minister and president of Israel.  

As president, Peres continued to promote peace and Israel on the world stage. He held working meetings with heads of state, members of parliament, and heads of international organizations, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June 2012. 

In December 2012, the World Jewish Congress honored Peres with the Theodor Herzl Award at its annual gala dinner in New York City. In his remarks, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder hailed President Peres as “the last great founding father of the State of Israel” and called him “a man of vision” who was “a true champion for peace in our time.” 

More than 80 world leaders flew to Israel to attend Peres’ funeral and honor the last of Israel’s founding fathers.  

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