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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Shimon Peres: Fighter for peace
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Peres and Mr Sharon disagreed over meeting Mr Arafat
Shimon Peres has long been the Israeli political establishment's loudest and most determined advocate of peace with the Palestinians.

An architect of the Oslo accord in 1993, he was recognised by the international community with a Nobel Prize shared with Yasser Arafat and the late Yitzhak Rabin.

But the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel early this year put Mr Peres's Labour party in a quandary: Should they join the long-time hardliner in a national unity government, or fight him in opposition?

Under the leadership of Mr Peres - and against the vocal protests of other leading party doves - Labour joined the government and Mr Peres became Foreign Minister.

Since then, he has kept open channels to the Arab world and tried to moderate Mr Sharon's policies.

International contacts

He met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo in April to discuss an Arab proposal for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mr Peres shared his Nobel Prize with Rabin and Mr Arafat
When the Mitchell Report condemned Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian territories, it was Mr Peres who proposed that Israel would stop any further seizures of land around the settlements and adopt a stricter policy on new building within their existing boundaries.

He also toured Europe and visited Turkey and Washington to shore up support for Israel among her allies.

The focus on peacemaking and the international sphere was perhaps appropriate for a politician who has always been more popular abroad than at home.

Record of defeats

Although he has twice been prime minister, he has never won an election in his own right.

Mr Peres, 78, took the top job only via a power-sharing agreement with the Likud party in 1984, and after Mr Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

Shimon Peres
Nobel Peace Laureate 1994
Prime Minister 1984-1986, 1995-96
Three times foreign minister
Born Belarus, 1923
Immigrated to Israel, 1934
Member of the Knesset since 1959
Lost elections 1977, 1981, 1988, 1996, 2000
He is much more familiar with defeat than victory, having led his party to electoral losses at least five times.

And perhaps most humiliating of all, the elder statesman was passed over for the presidency by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, last year.

He was defeated by the little-known Likud politician Moshe Katsav, a former tourism minister whose claims to fame include being voted most polite Knesset member.

Polls indicated that he stood a better chance of defeating Mr Sharon in this year's prime ministerial election than the Labour incumbent, Ehud Barak.

But Mr Barak refused to step aside for him, and Mr Peres was unable to find enough parliamentarians to support a rival bid.

After Mr Barak went down in crushing defeat, Mr Peres again stepped in to become leader of the party.

In a fractious party meeting at which Mr Peres had to shout to be heard over hecklers, he argued that Israel wanted a unity government

"The time has come to listen to the nation for once," Mr Peres. "For once, listen to the will of the nation."

Internal dissent

The move angered his protege, former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, another leading dove.

Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin
Mr Beilin was disappointed by his mentor
"Shimon, I love you, but listening to your remarks, I want to cry," said Mr Beilin said, who went on to resign his Knesset seat.

Mr Beilin argued that the Nobel peace laureate Mr Peres would merely be a fig-leaf for a hard-line Sharon government.

But the dispute between Mr Sharon and Mr Peres over whether the foreign minister should meet Mr Arafat may indicate that the veteran is more than just a front man for the right wing.

Reportedly saying that he is not a clerk to do Mr Sharon's orders, the veteran Mr Peres seems still to be fighting for his vision of peace in the Middle East.

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