At 83 years old, Shimon Peres is the grand old man of Israeli politics. It will be a fitting end to a very long and distinguished career for him to move into the presidential palace, an honour which eluded him when Moshe Katsav was elected to the post in 2000. While Peres enjoys great prestige abroad, he does not always have such a popular image at home in Israel.
Peres is the only participant in the historic Oslo accords of 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians still on the scene today. It was Peres who persuaded the then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that Israel had to come to an agreement with Yassir Arafat, and since then he has consistently defended the accords and the Palestinian authority which emerged from the Oslo peace process
Next year in 1994, the three protagonists Peres, Rabin and Arafat were to received the Nobel peace prize. It was a time of optimism.
But on 4 November 1995, Rabin fell to an assassin’s bullet. This sad event was to plunge the peace process into a period of gloom from which it has yet to emerge. Shimon Peres who had been standing next to premier Rabin when he was shot epitomised the feeling of national sorrow which followed.
Born Shimon Perske in what is now Belarus, he left with his parents for Palestine in 1934 .In 1952 Peres was elected to the Knesset , 8 years later he was deputy defence minister, a ministry to which he returned as chief minister in 1974. The origins of Israel’s nuclear capability can be traced to this period. He headed the Israeli labour party.
Events in the middle east might have unfolded differently if Peres had beaten Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections of 1996.
Two years ago, Peres deserted the Labour Party to which he had been faithful for virtually all his political life and joined the Kadima movement created by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.