Shimon Peres, a former Israeli president and prime minister, whose life story mirrored that of the Jewish state and who was celebrated around the world as a Nobel prize-winning visionary who pushed his country toward peace, has died, the Israeli news website YNet reported early today. He was 93.
Peres' condition worsened following a major stroke two weeks ago. In an unprecedented seven-decade political career, Peres filled nearly 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 skeptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
A protege of Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, he led the Defense Ministry in his 20s and spearheaded the development of Israel's nuclear program. He was first elected to parliament in 1959 and later held every major Cabinet post including defense, 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 recognisable figure abroad. And yet, for much of his political career he could not parlay his international prestige into success in Israeli politics, where 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.
He finally secured the public adoration that had long eluded him when he has chosen by parliament to a seven-year term as Israel's ceremonial president in 2007, taking the role of elder statesman.
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 Center for Peace that raised funds for cooperation and development projects involving Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations.