אRemembering Shimon Peres on the first anniversary of his passing

א.1 | In the Defence Ministry, 1948-1965

Starting out as a youth leader in the Zionist labour movement, Peres joined Israel’s defence establishment in the late 1940s and became director-general of the Ministry of Defence in 1953 at the age of 29. He was a protégé of the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who advanced him together with Moshe Dayan, in preference to the previous generation of leaders of the ruling party, Mapai. He played an important role in building Israel’s relations with France, and was active in organizing the arms purchases, especially of modern planes, which made possible Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.

In Eilat with former French Defence Minister, Maurice Bourges-Maunory and Abel Thomas, former head of the French Defence ministry, June 1958. Photograph: Yaron Mirlin, GPO

A formation of Israel Air Force Mirage planes on a training flight, March 1967. Photograph: Moshe Milner, GPO

Following Ben-Gurion’s policy of improving relations with West Germany despite the shadow of the Holocaust, Peres also helped to build the security relationship with Germany, starting with talks held in 1957 with the West German Defence Minister, Franz-Joseph Strauss. As a result Germany supplied Israel with US-made tanks and other equipment.

In 1959 Peres was elected to the Knesset and became deputy minister of defence. One of his main tasks was to improve security ties with the U.S. In May 1962 he visited Washington as a follow up to the visit by Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ben-Gurion, who had met informally with President John Kennedy in 1961. See our Hebrew website for Peres’ report to Ben-Gurion, Foreign Minister Golda Meir and the IDF attache in the US: “In conclusion we can say…that the Americans created the best possible opportunity to listen to our case…there is no substitute for direct dialogue…we must persuade them of the logic of our stand.”

א.2 | Minister of Defence, 1977-1974

In 1965 Peres followed Ben-Gurion into the wilderness when he left his party, Mapai, and started the Rafi faction. After the reunion of the parties Peres served in several government posts. On Golda Meir’s resignation in 1974 he ran for the leadership against Yitzhak Rabin, who was backed by the party establishment. Rabin’s victory by a narrow margin forced him to appoint Peres as defence minister, and this was the beginning of the rivalry that dogged Israeli politics for many years.

The Archives has issued several publications on Peres’ term as defence minister in the first Rabin government. They include blog posts in Hebrew on the Savoy hotel terrorist attack in March 1975 and on the rescue of the Israeli hostages held at Entebbe in July 1976.

Defence Minister Shimon Peres at the scene of the attack on the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, 6 March, 1975. Photograph: Ya’acov Sa’ar, GPO

A two part publication in English describes Peres’ role in the negotiations with Egypt on the second Sinai agreement with Egypt. At first he was deeply suspicious of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, but he later helped to obtain public support for the withdrawal of IDF forces from part of Sinai in return for the agreement – an important stepping stone to the peace treaty with Egypt.

Turning point to peace, Part 1

Turning point to peace, Part 2

A page from talks with Kissinger in August 1975 on the US presence in Sinai to guarantee the agreement with Egypt (File A7032/4)

א.3 | Prime Minister of the National Unity government, 1984-1986

After the elections of 1984 a national unity government was formed, in which the post of prime minister was “rotated”; first Peres served for two years and afterwards Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud headed the government. The coalition agreement specified that each party would have an equal number of ministers and political and security decisions would be made by a cabinet of ten members. As prime minister, Peres had to deal with severe economic difficulties and the results of the first Lebanese war, which exacted a heavy price in Israeli casualties. After a public struggle, Peres proposed withdrawal from Lebanon in three stages, except for a security zone near the border. On 14 January 1985 the government decided to adopt this policy and to carry out the first stage of the withdrawal and in April it decided to complete the withdrawal by the beginning of June (See File MFA 6838/10).

At the same time the government had to deal with an economic crisis and hyperinflation which reached 400% per year. On 30 June 1985 Peres led the government in the adoption of an emergency plan to stabilize the economy, described in a post in our Hebrew blog.

Peres believed that this government had many positive achievements. In April 1987 he wrote a letter to ex-US ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis, thanking him for an article he published in the journal “Foreign Affairs” summarizing his term of office and expressing the hope that the next government would build on the precedents of Lebanon, the economy and the arbitration of Israel’s border dispute with Egypt at Taba (See File MFA 6993/6, pp. 171-172). Peres also corresponded with writers, poets and intellectuals in Israel and abroad, showing his broad interests and enthusiasm for new ideas.


א.4 | Foreign Minister, 1988-1986

Despite pressure not to honour the rotation agreement, in 1986 Peres stepped down as prime minister and was replaced by Shamir. Peres took his place as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. While he headed the government Peres had welcomed US initiatives for peace negotiations opposed by Shamir, and was willing to agree to an international conference as demanded by King Hussein of Jordan, in order to open direct negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbours. However he insisted that the conference should not be empowered to impose a solution and that the Soviet Union restore its relations with Israel.

On 11 April 1987 Peres signed an agreement with Hussein in London, but it was not approved by Shamir and the government.

The original text of the agreement, shown on our website in 2012 in a publication on Yitzhak Shamir

File MFA 6993/6 includes correspondence with Shamir on the agreement, showing the tension between them, and letters by Peres to King Hassan II of Morocco, to Francois Mitterand and to other foreign leaders on prospects for convening an international conference as proposed in the agreement with Jordan.

Letter to King Hassan II of Morocco

Peres and King Hassan II at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, 1996. Photograph: Avi Ohayon, GPO

א.5 | Minister of Finance, 1990-1988

In the elections to the 12th Knesset in 1988 the Labour party lost seats and Peres became minister of finance and deputy prime minister under Shamir. He continued to take an interest in the peace process alongside his economic activities as can be seen in this file from his spokesman’s office.  In a speech to a Jewish solidarity conference in 1989 (pp.330-335), Peres spoke of the importance of the perennial “who is a Jew” issue and the Law of Return, on his support for electoral reform and on his plans for privatization and freeing the economy:

He ended with his vision of a political solution to the Palestinian problem and “the transformation of the Middle East from belligerency to prosperity”.


א.6 | Foreign Minister under Yitzhak Rabin and Prime Minister and Defense Minister following Rabin's assassination, 1992-1996

In June 1992 the Labour party led by Yitzhak Rabin won the elections to the 13th Knesset. Peres again became foreign minister and led the negotiations which resulted in the Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians. For their role in reaching the agreement, Peres, Rabin and Yasser Arafat were given the Nobel peace prize in 1994. That year the peace treaty with Jordan was also signed.

On 4 November 1995 Rabin was assassinated. Peres formed a government in which he also held the defence portfolio. In the spring of 1996 Israel was under attack by a wave of Palestinan terrorism, and Peres’ reaction to these attacks can be seen in a file of his speeches on this website. However his belief in the peace process did not waver. Following a counter-terrorism summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in March 1996, in April Peres met with President Clinton in Washington, and spoke at an AIPAC conference on the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin ( draft speech on pp.98-119):


In June 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in direct elections under the new law, and the Likud won a majority in the 14th Knesset.


א.7 | Shimon Peres, 1996-2016

President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday celebrations in Jerusalem, 18 June 2013. From right to left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Peres, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and American singer Barbra Streisand watching the screens. Photograph: Kobi Gideon, GPO

From 1996 on Peres headed the Opposition. In the government formed by Ehud Barak in 1999, he served as a minister and in the National Unity government of Ariel Sharon he was again appointed as foreign minister. After joining Sharon’s Kadima party, he was elected president  in 2007. Unfortunately the documents from this period are too recent to be declassified. Because of this restriction and the amount of material in the Archives, it may be many years until we can tell the full story of one of Israel’s most fascinating statesmen.

For a full list of files, see the publication on our Hebrew website