Shimon Peres Easily Wins Israeli Presidency

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert congratulates Shimon Peres on his victory. The position may be the last in public life for Peres, who will soon turn 84.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert congratulates Shimon Peres on his victory. The position may be the last in public life for Peres, who will soon turn 84. (Getty Images)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 14, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 13 -- Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, Nobel laureate, and perennial loser of elections, handily won Israel's presidency Wednesday in his second bid for what will likely be his last official position in public life.

Peres won a secret-ballot victory in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to secure the largely ceremonial post that eluded him seven years ago. He will take office next month at a time when Israel's presidency has been tarnished by criminal allegations swirling around the man now holding the office, Moshe Katsav.

"The president's role is not to deal with politics and partisanship, but to represent what unites us," said Peres, a great-grandfather who will turn 84 the month after he is sworn in. "The Knesset chose to prove today that elected figures represent the people."

Israel's president serves a single seven-year term, and the post has often gone to Israeli elder statesmen as capstones to long public careers. The president formally accepts the credentials of foreign diplomats, globe-trots to promote the Jewish state, and holds the power to grant pardons.

An articulate polyglot who often seems more loved abroad than at home, Peres holds the ideal credentials for the post, especially following Katsav's tenure.

Katsav, a former Likud Party lawmaker, suspended himself in January from official duties pending a decision from the attorney general on whether to indict him on rape, assault and other criminal charges stemming from allegations made by several women who once worked for him.

"We hope that in the next seven years you bring respect to this institution, respect that lately has been missing," Dalia Itzik, the Knesset speaker, told Peres following the afternoon vote.

Peres was first elected to parliament in 1959 as a protege of the founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, after distinguishing himself building Israel's fledgling defense forces and nuclear power program. He became minister of immigrant absorption in 1969 and has since held the important foreign, defense and finance portfolios in various governments.

But Peres, who arrived in Tel Aviv from Poland as a child, is the only former Israeli prime minister never elected outright to the office. He held the job three times -- first in 1977 when he briefly replaced Yitzhak Rabin, his rival within the Labor Party, after Rabin resigned amid a financial scandal.

Later that year, Peres led Labor to its first defeat in national elections. He followed that with another loss in 1981. In 1984, he became prime minister through an unprecedented rotating arrangement with Likud because neither party won enough seats to govern without sharing power with the other.

A proponent of a two-state solution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his work as foreign minister on the Oslo accords.

That agreement set in motion the process of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but it has collapsed since then. Peres again succeeded Rabin as prime minister in 1995 after his assassination, serving less than a year in office before losing the next general election.

Peres ran as the Labor candidate for the presidency in 2000, but lost to Katsav in a secret vote after most lawmakers pledged in public to support him. A year later he took Labor into a national-unity government with his old friend and rival, Likud leader Ariel Sharon.

At the end of 2005, after losing the Labor leadership race, Peres left the party to join Sharon's new Kadima movement.

In contrast to his last bid for the presidency, Peres worked diligently behind the scenes to secure parliamentary support. His closest rival was Reuven Rivlin, the Likud candidate for the job who withdrew from the race Wednesday after Peres secured a large lead in the first round of voting.

Staff researcher Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company