Peres (Persky), Shimon

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PERES (Persky ), SHIMON (1923– ), Israeli statesman, chairman of the Israel Labor Party 1977–92, 1995–97, and 2003–05, member of the Knesset since the Fourth Knesset; prime minister of Israel 1984–86 and 1995–96. Born in Vishneva, in Belorussia, Peres immigrated with his family to Palestine in 1934. He attended the Ge'ulah School in Tel Aviv and the Agricultural School at Ben-Shemen. In 1940 he was one of the founders of kibbutz Alummot, and served as secretary of Tenu'at ha-No'ar ha-Oved ve-ha-Lomed youth movement. Peres started to work with David *Ben-Gurion and Levi *Eshkol in the *Haganah command in 1947, and continued to serve them after the establishment of the state. In 1949 he was appointed head of the Ministry of Defense mission to the U.S., which was engaged in purchasing military equipment. In 1950 he was appointed temporary head of the naval services in the idf. In 1952 he was appointed deputy director general of the Ministry of Defense and the following year director general. In 1955, after it became known that President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt had signed a major arms deal with Czechoslovakia, Peres helped forge close ties with France, which also viewed Nasser as an enemy. In 1959 he was assigned the task of settingup the nuclear reactor in Dimonah. He also played a major role in rehabilitating Israel's arms industries, and advanced the development of the Israel Aircraft Industry (iai).

Peres was first elected to the Fourth Knesset in 1959 on the Mapai list, and was appointed deputy minister of defense–a position he held until 1965. In that year he left Mapai; together with Ben-Gurion, Moshe *Dayan, and others, he was one of the founders of the *Rafi party, and was appointed its secretary general. When Prime Minister Golda *Meir established her government after the elections to the Seventh Knesset, Peres was first appointed minister without portfolio responsible for the economic development of the occupied territories, but in December 1969 was promoted to minister of immigrant absorption. The following year he was appointed minister of communications. In 1974 he served as minister of information in the short-lived government formed by Meir. After Meir's resignation he failed in his first contest against Yitzhak *Rabin for the Labor Party leadership. In the government formed by Rabin in 1974 he served as minister of defense. As minister of defense he played a major role in reorganizing the IDF in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. In this period he was considered more hawkish than Rabin, and actually gave in to the newly founded *Gush Emunim, permitting the permanent settlement of Elon Moreh. On February 23, 1977, Peres once again lost in a contest for the Labor Party leadership, but following Rabin's resignation, on April 7, 1977, became party chairman. Under his leadership the Labor-Mapam Alignment suffered a bitter defeat in the elections to the Ninth Knesset in 1977, and for the first time since the establishment of the state the *Ḥerut movement, within the framework of the Likud, gained power. In opposition Peres acted to strengthen the ties of the Labor Party abroad, especially within the framework of the Socialist International, and in 1978 was elected as one of this organization's vice presidents. Peres led the Alignment in opposition until 1984. As a result of the draw in the results of the elections to the Eleventh Knesset in 1984, a National Unity Government was established with the Likud, based on parity, and a rotation in the premiership. Under the coalition agreement Peres served as prime minister in the years 1984–86, while Likud leader Yitzhak *Shamir served as vice premier and minister for foreign affairs. In the years 1986–88 the two leaders switched positions. In April 1987 Peres concluded the London Agreement with King Hussein of Jordan, which dealt with the convening of a Middle East peace conference, but the agreement was not approved by the inner cabinet in which the Alignment and the Likud were equally represented, and at the end of 1987 the first Intifada broke out. In the National Unity Government formed by Shamir in 1988, after the elections to the Twelfth Knesset, Peres was appointed minister of finance. In March 1990, following the stalemate in the peace process, Peres decided to bring down the government in a vote on a motion of no confidence, but after the government fell, in what Rabin was later to term the "rotten trick," he failed to form an alternative government, and in June 1990 Shamir established a narrow government without Labor.

Following Peres' failure to establish a government, Rabin announced that he would once again contest the Labor Party leadership, and on February 19, 1992, won the leadership contest, and replaced Peres as leader of the Labor Party. In the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset held later that year, Rabin led the Labor Party to its first clear-cut victory since the 1973 elections, and in the government that he formed Peres was appointed vice premier and minister for foreign affairs. In cooperation with Rabin Peres approved the Oslo Process initiated by his deputy Yossi *Beilin, which led to Israel's recognition of the plo and the signing of the Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993. Together with Rabin and plo chairman Yasser Arafat, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace on December 10, 1994. Following Rabin's assassination on November 4, 1995, Peres was appointed prime minister and minister of defense. In the first direct election of the prime minister held simultaneously with the elections to the Fourteenth Knesset in 1996, Peres was defeated by Binyamin *Netanyahu by a very small margin. In 1996, following the elections, he established the Peres Center for Peace, designed to further the implementation of the peace agreements by means of social and economic cooperation.

In June 1997, Peres was replaced by Ehud *Barak as chairman of the Labor Party. Following Barak's victory over Netanyahu in the direct election of the prime minister held simultaneously with the elections to the Fifteenth Knesset in 1999, Peres was appointed minister for regional cooperation, but was largely ignored by Barak in his political moves. In 2000, following the resignation of Ezer *Weizman from the presidency, Peres was a candidate for the position, but lost to the Likud's Moshe *Katzav. Following Barak's defeat by Ariel *Sharon in the next direct election of the prime minister, held in February 2001, Sharon invited the Labor Party to join his government, and Peres, who once again served as acting chairman of the party, was offered the post of deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs. However, Labor left the government in November 2002, and Amram Mitzna was elected chairman of the Labor Party. Peres continued to serve in the Sixteenth Knesset in opposition, and after Mitzna's resignation from the leadership of the party, once again became acting chairman of the party. In January 2005, after all of Sharon's coalition partners left the government, Labor once again joined the government, and Peres was appointed vice premier and minister for regional cooperation. In 2005, Amir *Peretz scored an upset victory over Peres for the Labor Party chairmanship and Peres switched allegiance to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who established a new party, Kadimah.

Among his numerous writings are From These Men: Seven Portraits (1979); The New Middle East (1994); Battling for Peace: Memoirs, edited by David Landau (1995); and The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel (1999).


Y. Livni, Ha-Mahapekhah, Ha-Mada'im ve-ha-Ḥazon ha-Ḥevrati: Al Utopia Re'alit, Siḥah bi-Shnayim, Shimon Peres ve-Yiẓhak Livni (1984); M. Golan, The Road to Peace: A Biography of Shimon Peres (1989); M. Keren, Professionals Against Populism: The Peres Government and Democracy (1995); O. Azulai-Datz, Ha-Ish she-Lo Yada le-Naẓe'aḥ: Shimon Peres be-Malkodet Sisyphus (1996); Y. Kotler, Ha-Zarzir ve-ha-Orev: Ariel Sharon ve-Shimon Peres Kemot Shehem (2002); H. Misgav, Lo Otto ha-Yam: Siḥot im Shimon Peres (2004).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

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Peres (Persky), Shimon

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