Career

'I lost elections. But I am a winner'

(From left) Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with their Nobel Peace Prizes in 1994. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
(From left) Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with their Nobel Peace Prizes in 1994. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JERUSALEM • In a career spanning nearly seven decades, Mr Shimon Peres, once a shepherd on a kibbutz, or communal farm, served in a dozen Cabinets and twice as Labour Party prime minister, but he never won a general election outright in five tries from 1977 to 1996.

"I am a loser. I lost elections. But I am a winner - I served my people," said Mr Peres, who held the largely ceremonial post of president from 2007 to 2014.

Born in Poland in 1923, Mr Peres emigrated to what was then British-mandated Palestine when he was 11. He joined the Zionist struggle and met David Ben-Gurion, who would become his mentor and Israel's first prime minister.

  • Key dates

  • 1923 

    Born Shimon Persky in Vishneva in what was Poland and is now Belarus. He later took the Hebrew name Peres, meaning eagle.

    1934 

    Arrival in British Mandatory Palestine.

    1959 

    Elected a Member of Parliament for Mapai, which would later become the Labor Party.

    1984-86 

    Prime Minister of a Labor-Likud government of national unity.

    1993 

    Oversees secret negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that lead to the signing of the Oslo Accords. Mr Peres, who was foreign minister at the time, signed the accords on Sept 13 in the United States as then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and their old enemy, Mr Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, looked on and, with some prodding by US president Bill Clinton, shook hands. 1994 Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat, for his role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    1995 

    Succeeds Mr Rabin after his murder on Nov 4, as Premier and head of the Labor Party. 2007 Elected Israel's ninth president.

    2014 

    Stands down as president nine days before his 91st birthday and, during the Gaza war, hands over his duties to Mr Reuven Rivlin.

  • AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mr Peres became director-general of the nascent Defence Ministry at just 29. He was also seen as a driving force in the development of Israel's undeclared nuclear programme in the 1950s.

Mr Peres' greatest accomplishment came in 1993. After months of secret negotiation with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) representatives, he persuaded then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to accept the plan, which became known as the Oslo Accords.

Mr Peres, who was serving as foreign minister, signed the accords on Sept 13, 1993, in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House as Mr Rabin and their old enemy, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, looked on and, with some prodding by US president Bill Clinton, shook hands. It was a gesture both unprecedented and historic. Up to that time, Israel had refused to negotiate directly with the PLO. Mr Peres broke the taboo and the impasse.

But many in Israel opposed to the Oslo Accords also blamed him for what they saw as their failure.

In later life, especially during his time as president, he came to be widely embraced in Israel while world leaders and celebrities sought him out, marvelling at his energy and intelligence.

In every role he undertook - from forging Israel's defence strategy in the 1950s to running his eponymous peace foundation - Mr Peres was known for his energy and enthusiasm. "Optimists and pessimists die the same way," he said in 2005. "They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline ''I lost elections. But I am a winner''. Print Edition | Subscribe