Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, died Wednesday morning local time at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. Peres was one of Israel’s most distinguished and iconic leaders and has generated enormous respect around the world during a career spanning more than six decades. A founding father of the State of Israel, he served as the country’s president, its prime minister on three occasions, and as a member of 12 cabinets. He was known for building Israel’s defense in its early years, ushering in desperately needed economic reforms in the 1980s, pushing for peace through the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, and fighting for Israeli unity as president in the 2000s.
Born in Wiszniew, Poland in 1923 (now Vishnyeva, Belarus), Peres’ family emigrated to British Mandatory Palestine in 1934 and settled in Tel Aviv. In 1947, David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, made Peres responsible for arms procurement and recruitment for the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish military. As director general of the Ministry of Defense, at the young age of 29, Peres founded Israel’s military and aviation industries. Through adept diplomacy, he was able to forge a strong relationship between Israel and France, which dramatically improved Israel’s military and strategic capabilities in the 1950s and 1960s. When serving as defense minister, he drew up the plan for the successful raid at Entebbe in 1976, in which 103 of 106 Jewish hostages were rescued from Palestinian terrorists. As prime minister, Peres pushed through economic reforms in 1985 that reined in rampant inflation and revived the Israeli economy.
As foreign minister for Yitzhak Rabin, Peres was the official supervisor of the secret negotiations with the PLO, which culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993 and a Nobel Peace Prize. Peres assumed the premiership following Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, but was defeated in the polls by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 after a wave of terrorist attacks. In 2001, Peres became foreign minister as part of a Labor-Likud unity government under Ariel Sharon. He helped Labor support Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, before leaving the party in 2005 to serve as the deputy leader of Sharon’s new Kadima party.
Peres served as Israel’s president from the age of 83 to 90, strengthening Israel’s image abroad while working on Israeli-Palestinian peace and cooperation initiatives through the government as well as his foundation, the Peres Center for Peace. He received the Presidential Medal of Honor from Barack Obama in 2012 and the French Légion d’honneur in 2008.
U.S. leaders from both sides of the aisle mourned the passing of Shimon Peres, remarking upon his status as a world statesman and visionary. “Shimon Peres’ story was the story of modern Israel – a saga of daring, dynamism and wisdom. With all of his heart, this farmer, fighter, author, Nobel peace prize winner, prime minister and president worked to guide his nation into a secure and confident future,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “He was an intellectual resource who personified the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.” Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan echoed her sentiments: “The world has lost a true legend and statesman. Shimon Peres was a gift to the country he helped establish and lead, and a persistent voice for the cause of peace.”
President Barack Obama “issued an unusually long and personal” statement honoring the former president, as characterized by The New York Times on Wednesday. “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama said. “Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves — to the very end of our time on Earth and in the legacy that we leave to others.” President Obama awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Other American leaders to extend their condolences included former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, former President George H.W. Bush, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Foreign leaders expressed their condolences for the death of Shimon Peres and paid their respects to the late statesman. Pope Francis gave his prayers for Peres’ family and the people of Israel, calling for “the divine blessings of consolation and strength upon the nation.” British Prime Minister Theresa May announced, “He was a visionary and courageous statesman, who worked relentlessly for peace and never lost hope that this would one day be achievable.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement in which he wrote, “This is a man who was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply.” French President Francois Hollande called Peres a “faithful friend of France” and said that “[w]ith the death of Shimon Peres, Israel loses one of its most illustrious statesmen, one of the most ardent defenders of peace.”
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, tweeted, “In former President Shimon Peres, we lost a key world leader & a friend of India. Pained by his demise. Our condolences to the people of Israel.” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote, “Australia mourns the passing of Shimon Peres, his passion for the State of Israel as strong as his commitment to peace.” The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said she was “heartbroken” to hear of Peres’ passing and called him a “man of peace [and] immense source of inspiration.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a statement that “the world has lost a great statesman, Israel one of its founding fathers and Germany a highly treasured friend and partner.” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he “always benefited from his views. Even in the most difficult hours, he remained an optimist about the prospects for reconciliation and peace.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a letter that “Peres was a partner in making the brave peace with the martyr Yasser Arafat and prime minister (Yitzhak) Rabin, and made unremitting efforts to reach a lasting peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life.” He also tweeted that Peres’ death is “a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region.”
Among the world leaders scheduled to attend Peres’ funeral are U.S. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain’s Prince Charles, Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Turnbull, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.