Peace crusader Peres who scripted Israel’s history passes away at 93
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the century-old conflict with Palestine, passed away on Wednesday. He was 93.
Peres, who twice served as the Prime Minister of Israel and later as the country’s ninth President, suffered a severe organ failure on Tuesday as well as irreversible brain damage caused by a hemorrhagic stroke on September 13.
In a political career, spanning over seven decades, Peres virtually held every senior political office in Israel, including stints as Foreign and Finance minister.
Peres’ demise has saddened the entire country and world. 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. Besides, 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 his career did Peres finally win widespread admiration of his own people that had eluded him for so long.
His son Chemi Peres confirmed the former President’s death at the hospital, where he was 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 had said in an interview on July 15, 2007, moments before he was sworn in as the 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 had said.
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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a statement, mourning Peres’ demise. He said he would convene his Cabinet for a special session later in the day.
Netanyahu hailed Peres as a “visionary” and a “champion of Israel’s defence”. “Shimon dedicated his life to the rebirth of our people,” Netanyahu, who was a political rival of Peres, said in a statement.
“As a visionary he looked to the future. As a champion of Israel’s defence, he strengthened its capacities in many ways, some of them still unacknowledged to this day,” he said.
The last rites of elder statesman will be performed on Friday, which several world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, are likely to attend it.
Peres’ 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.