Shimon Peres Biography
The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has invited the opposition labor party to become part of a coalition in the Israeli Knesset. Knesset means assembly and may also be translated as parliament. This move is important for the future of Israel because Mr. Sharon seeks to leave the Gaza strip in 2005 and hand it to the Palestinians. The reasons are evident. Gaza is inhabited by 1,300,000 Arabs and 5,000 Israelis. The cost in the lives of Israeli soldiers and the money needed to protect the 5,000 is too high to make the continued presence of the Jewish settlers worthwhile. In fact, this occupation endangers Israel in that it draws vital resources in men and materials from the defense of Samaria and Judea.
Therefore, the participation of Labor in the government is vital. No doubt Shimon Peres, the leader of the Labor Party, will be named deputy Prime Minister and will also be placed in charge of the redeployment of the 5,000 settlers and the army now present to defend them. The 5,000 Israelis will need new homes in Israel. This will cost a great deal of money and will also involve strategic considerations. Obviously a man of the stature of Shimon Peres will be most helpful and vital in making all this possible.
Peres has a long career in Israeli politics. He was born Shimon Perski in Vishniev, Poland (now Belarus) in 1923. His cousin, Betty Perske, is the famous actress known to moviegoers as Lauren Bacall or Mrs. Humphrey Bogart.
Peres migrated to Israel in 1934 at age eleven. He grew up in Tel Aviv and attended an agricultural high school at Beth Shemen. Thereafter he spent several years in a kibbutz or agricultural settlement. In 1943 he was elected Secretary of the Labor Zionist youth movement. He then worked as a farmer and shepherd in Kibbutz Alumot.
In 1947 David Ben Gurion appointed Shimon Peres manpower and arms procurer for the Israeli Defense Forces. He continued in that capacity under Levi Eshkol. In 1948 he was appointed commander of the navy of Israel and thereafter became head of the Israeli delegation to the United States. This gave him the opportunity to study at the New School of Social Research in New York and at Harvard University,
In 1953, when he was only 29, David Ben Gurion appointed Peres to head the Defense Ministry. In that capacity he became responsible for the establishment of Israel’s electronic and aircraft industries and the development of Israel’s nuclear program. Then, in 1956 Peres “masterminded” the Sinai campaign.
In 1959 Peres was elected to the parliament (Knesset) and has remained a member ever since.
The Knesset is a replica of the British House of Commons. In fact, almost all democracies in the world except ours and the French follow the British model. As we all know, our form of government was first proposed by Charles Secondat, Baron de la Brede et Montesquieu (1689-1755). He is usually known only as Montesquieu and as the author of L’sprit de Lois or The Spirit of the Laws. That book describes a government later adopted by the Founding Fathers as our constitution. Of course we do not overlook the contribution of John Locke (1632-1704) to our constitution. If this interests you further but you have little time to read large volumes, you may want to look at Man’s Ascent to Reason, a book I wrote in 2002. This is a brief summary of almost all the major philosophers and scientists since ancient Greece and is designed for those who have neither the patience nor the inclination “to read all that”.
The British and the Israeli system allows the voter to elect members of parliament but not the Prime Minister, who is the head of the government. There is also a ceremonial president who has the same function as the Queen of England.
The Prime Minister is elected by a majority of the parliament. Since the Knesset includes 20 parties, no party has a majority. In the present Knesset the party of Ariel Sharon has a plurality (more than anyone else) of 29.39%. The second largest party is Labor with 14.46%. The smallest party is called the Progressive National Alliance. It received only 0.65% of the vote in the most recent election. Therefore, even the coalition between Labor and Likud will not produce a majority, so that some small parties must be included in the government so that Ariel Sharon can produce the results he seeks.
In 1969 Peres became minister for immigrant absorption. From 1970 to 1974 he was minister for transport and communication and information and later minister of defense. At that time Golda Meir was Prime Minister.
In 1977 Peres was briefly Prime Minister after Yitzhak Rabin resigned. However, he was defeated in the 1977 election. He then served as chairman of the Labor Party and as Vice Chairman of the Socialist International.
In 1984 Peres became Prime Minister again. He was not elected to that post but occupied it because of an arrangement with Yitzchak Shamir of Likud, who yielded the job to Peres for the sake of a unity government. In 1986 Peres yielded the Prime Minister’s position to Shamir and became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In that capacity he won the Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating the so-called Oslo Agreements with the terrorist Arafat. Prime Minister Rabin and Arafat also received the Peace Prize. (What is the meaning of that prize when it was given to Adolf Arafat?)
On November 4, 1995 Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. Therefore, Peres assumed the position of Prime Minister once more but was again defeated in May of 1996. In 1999 Peres was elected Honorary President of the Socialist International.
Shimon Peres is the author of ten books. Intellectuals are not well received in Israeli politics. Therefore, his scholarly background and his lack of military prowess made it impossible for him to win election to the position of Prime Minister. Evidently, a military career is absolutely necessary to gain the P.M. position in Israel. Even Golda Meir had that distinction, as did all of Israel’s Prime Ministers except the never-elected Peres.
Peres is now 81 years old. He is married to Sonya Gelman, with whom he has a daughter Zvia and two sons, Yonathan and Nehemia.