Shimon Peres was Israel’s eighth prime minister. First elected to the Israeli parliament in 1959, he has remained a member ever since, serving over the years in every major ministerial post. Peres recently quit the Labor Party and joined Sharon’s Kadima Party in order to help pursue peace with the Palestinians.
Born in Belarus in 1923 and educated in the United States and Tel Aviv, Peres moved with his family to Palestine at age 11. In 1943, he was elected secretary of the Labor-Zionist youth movement and was later conscripted to the Haganah defense forces.
Appointed defense minister in 1953, Peres is credited with shaping Israel’s relations with France and establishing its electronic aircraft and nuclear programs during that time. But trouble was brewing in Sinai, where Egypt refused to allow Israeli ships to use the Suez Canal. Peres viewed this as an act of war and became instrumental in designing the Sinai Campaign, leading Israeli forces to seize the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The United Nations halted the fighting. But Peres did not withdraw his troops for a year, until the United States promised to help keep the waters open to Israeli ships.
Because of his work in developing Israel’s first peace accord with the PLO in 1993, Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
During his long political career, Peres helped forge treaties with Egypt and negotiate peace with Lebanon; and in 1996, he founded the Peres Center for Peace to encourage peace in the Middle East through economic development.