ISRAEL — Even to his own people, Shimon Peres was a puzzle. He spoke eloquent Hebrew, but with a foreign accent, lacked formal education yet brimmed with culture, was a mediocre politician, but became a statesman of spectacular vision.
Former Israeli President Shimon Peres has passed away at the age of 93.
Born Shimon Persky in Belarus, his family emigrated to what was then The Palestinian Mandate in 1934, when he was 11 years old.
As CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, it was a job as secretary on a kibbutz dairy farm that led him into politics.
His service in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was to last a record 48 years. He served as a minister in 12 cabinets and was prime minister twice.
Although much of it remains secret even today, Peres is considered the father of Israel’s nuclear program.
His political career encompassed all of Israel’s wars, but Peres believed his country’s security lay as much in making peace as it did in being prepared for conflict.
He cooperated with his fierce political rival Yitzhak Rabin to secure an interim peace accord with Egypt, which formed the basis of the historic treaty signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
“We shall negotiate with you a permanent settlement and with all our neighbors a comprehensive peace for all,” he declared at the time.
As Foreign Minister, Peres was in charge of the peace process with the Palestinians.
“The Oslo Accord,” signed at the White House in 1993, won Peres, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace prize.
A long and mostly secret special relationship with King Hussein of Jordan culminated in Israel’s second peace treaty with an Arab state.
Peres used his two terms as president to promote Israel’s standing in the world, and his quest for peace.
In what perhaps summed up his life best, Shimon Peres once said “the duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly… even in the face of hostility… in the face of doubt and disappointment.”
“Just imagine what could be,” he added.
His dream of Middle East peace remains unfulfilled, but not for lack of trying on Shimon Peres’ part.