Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, whose life story was entwined with that of the Jewish state and who was celebrated around the world as a Nobel prize-winning visionary who pushed his country toward peace, passed away overnight on Tuesday at the age of 93, the Israeli news website Ynet reported early Wednesday.
Peres’ condition worsened following a major stroke two weeks ago, Ynet said. He was in a medically-induced coma until his passing. His family members rushed to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon to bid their final goodbyes. His son, Chemi, confirmed his death on Wednesday morning to reporters gathered at the hospital where Shimon Peres had been treated for the past two weeks.
“Today with deep sorrow, we bid farewell to our beloved father, the ninth president of Israel,” Chemi Peres said.
“Our father’s legacy has always been to look to tomorrow. We were privileged to be part of his private family, but today we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community share this great loss. We share this pain together.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement mourning the passing of Peres. He said he will convene his Cabinet for a special session later in the day. Peres was rushed to the Sheba Medical Center on September 13 after consulting with his doctor and informing him that he was feeling weak.
An initial CT scan showed a brain hemorrhage, and the doctors decided to sedate the former president as he underwent medical treatment in the ICU.
A second CT scan to further assess his condition showed no improvement. On September 27, Peres’s doctors determined that the neurological damage caused by the stroke was “irreversible.”
He was hospitalised at the Sheba Medical Center for two days about six months ago with slight heart arrhythmia. Two weeks later, he was hospitalised with a very minor heart attack. He went through a successful catheterisation procedure, and returned home after five days.
He was Israel’s ninth President. He played a major role in the Israel’s history from its very inception and was a big proponent of the peace process. Throughout the years, Peres served in almost every senior post in Israel’s leadership. In addition to serving as president and prime minister, at times he also served as Israel’s defense minister, foreign minister and finance minister, among other roles.
In an eventful seven-decade political career, Peres occupied almost every position in Israeli public life and was credited with leading the country through some of its most defining moments, from creating its nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, to disentangling its troops from Lebanon and rescuing its economy from triple-digit inflation in the 1980s, to guiding a sceptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
As a protege of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion, he led the Defence Ministry in his 20s and spearheaded the development of Israel’s nuclear programme. He was first elected to Parliament in 1959 and later held every major Cabinet post, including defence, finance and foreign affairs and served three brief stints as Prime Minister. His key role in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and revered status as Israel’s then most recognizable figure abroad.
However, despite his international image and successes, his success in Israeli domestic politics was limited as he was branded by many as both a utopian dreamer and political schemer. His well-tailored, necktied appearance and swept-back grey hair seemed to separate him from his more informal countrymen. He suffered a string of electoral defeats — competing in five general elections seeking the Prime Minister’s spot, he lost four and tied one, according to an AP report.
AP said in an obituary that Peres was celebrated by doves and vilified by hawks for advocating far-reaching Israeli compromises for peace even before he negotiated the first interim accord with the Palestinians in 1993 that set into motion a partition plan that gave them limited self-rule. That was followed by a peace accord with neighbouring Jordan. But after a fateful six-month period in 1995-96 that included Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings and Peres’ own election loss to the more conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, the prospects for peace began to evaporate.
Relegated to the political wilderness, he created his non-governmental Peres Centre for Peace that raised funds for cooperation and development projects involving Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations. He returned to it at age 91 when he completed his term as President.
Shimon Peres was born on August 2, 1923, in Vishneva, then part of Poland. He moved to pre-state Palestine in 1934 with his immediate family. Rising quickly through Labour Party ranks, he became a top aide to Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and a man Peres once called “the greatest Jew of our time.”
At 29, he was the youngest person to serve as director of Israel’s Defence Ministry, and is credited with arming Israel’s military almost from scratch. Yet throughout his political career, he suffered from the fact that he never wore an Army uniform or fought in a war. Of his 10 books, several amplified his vision of a “new Middle East” where there was peaceful economic and cultural cooperation among all the nations of the region.
Despite continued waves of violence that pushed the Israeli political map to the right, the concept of a Palestinian state next to Israel became mainstream Israeli policy many years after Peres advocated it. Shunted aside during the 1999 election campaign, won by party colleague Ehud Barak, Peres rejected advice to retire, assuming the newly created and loosely defined Cabinet post of Minister for Regional Cooperation.
In 2000, Peres absorbed another resounding political slap, losing an election in the Parliament for the largely ceremonial post of President to Likud Party backbencher Moshe Katsav, who was later convicted and imprisoned for rape.
Even so, Peres refused to quit. In 2001, at age 77, he took the post of Foreign Minister in the government of national unity set up by Ariel Sharon, serving for 20 months before Labour withdrew from the coalition. Then he followed Sharon into a new party, Kadima, serving as Vice-Premier under Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, before assuming the presidency.