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Shimon Peres' Life of Public Service Spanned the Life of Israel

  • VOA News

Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, whose life of public service spans the life of the Israeli nation itself, has died at age 93.

Peres suffered a severe stroke two weeks ago and died Wednesday in the hospital in Tel HaShomer.

He held nearly every major Israeli political post during his long career, including prime minister twice, the presidency, defense minister and foreign minister.

He was the longest serving member of parliament in Israeli history, holding a seat in the Knesset for 48 years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Peres devoted his life to the sovereignty of the Israeli people.

"As a man of vision, his gaze was aimed to the future," he said. "As a man of security, he fortified Israel's strength in many ways, some of which even today is still unknown. As a man of peace, he worked until his final days toward reconciling with our neighbors for a better future for our children."

U.S. President Barack Obama said no one did more than Peres to build the alliance between the United States and Israel and described him as a someone who forced people to expect more from themselves.

"He was guided by a vision of human dignity and progress that he knew people of goodwill could advance together. He brought young people from around the world together because he knew they could carry us closer to our ideals of justice and equality," Obama said in a statement.

Former President Bill Clinton said that with the death of Peres, the Middle East "has lost a fervent advocate for peace and reconciliation."

Clinton, along with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, European Council President Donald Tusk, and French President Francois Hollande are among the world figures who have confirmed their presence at Peres' funeral on Friday.

Peres' coffin will be displayed at Israeli parliament Wednesday, and will then lay in state in front of the Knesset building Thursday ahead of the funeral the following day.

Peres was born in present day Belarus in 1923 and moved to Israel when he was 11 years old, when the future Jewish state was under British mandate.

He got his first taste of politics and diplomacy at age 23, when he was appointed to the Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The congress was founded in 1897 to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine.

Peres became Israeli defense minister the first time in 1952, when he was just 29 years old.

He is credited with working to develop Israel's defense and aerospace industries, and sources to buy modern weapons - which helped the newborn Jewish state survive. Peres also is said to have worked to develop Israel's nuclear program, which Israel has never confirmed having.

The Israeli military was decimated by the 1973 Yom Kippur war and it was up to Peres, who again was serving as defense minister after several other posts, to rebuild Israel into a military powerhouse.

While he was determined to make Israel as strong as ever, he was working behind the scenes for peace with Egypt. While rotating as prime minister with Yitzhak Shamir, Peres also worked to reduce tensions with Lebanon and Jordan.

1993 Mideast Peace Agreement: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signs the Mideast Peace Agreement on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., as President Clinton, standing center, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, third from right, and other dignitaries look on, Sept. 13, 1993. From left to right are: Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev; Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; an unidentified aide; Clinton; Peres; Arafat; Secretary of State Warren Christopher; and Arafat aide Mahmoud Abbas.

1993 Mideast Peace Agreement: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signs the Mideast Peace Agreement on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., as President Clinton, standing center, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, third from right, and other dignitaries look on, Sept. 13, 1993. From left to right are: Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev; Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; an unidentified aide; Clinton; Peres; Arafat; Secretary of State Warren Christopher; and Arafat aide Mahmoud Abbas.

His major achievement was as foreign minister with the Oslo Accords -- a deal for Palestinian self-rule for which Peres, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

Peres became prime minister a second time when Rabin was assassinated in 1995, but he lost reelection the following year.

He was Israeli president from 2007 until 2014 - a mainly ceremonial but important diplomatic post.

Peres also founded the Peres Peace Center, which develops joint, economic, educational and cultural projects with the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan.

He and continued to work for peace and cooperation until being felled by the stroke.

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