Shimon Peres, architect of the Oslo accords, was sworn in as the ninth President of the State of Israel in the Knesset on Sunday evening.
At the ceremony, Peres swore allegiance and signed his declaration moments before addressing the audience. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who had been serving as acting president since Moshe Katzav removed himself from office, shouted out, in accordance with Knesset custom, "Long live the president of the State of Israel," to which present Knesset Members and the remainder of the audience replied, "Long live, long live, long live."
In his acceptance speech, Peres stated, “I never dreamt of becoming president. As a boy I dreamt of being a shepherd or a poet of the stars. Now that I am elected, I see it as a privilege and do not take it lightly.”
“As president, one must be respectful of the law, bolster the judicial system and the executive branch and respect the minority,” Peres added. “The president must encourage peace processes in Israel, with our neighbors and in the entire region.”
Peres, a month shy of his 84th birthday, is the oldest president in the history of Israel, and will be 91 years old at the completion of his term. He was elected by the Knesset to serve as President of Israel on June 13, 2007.
Peres was elected by a large majority, over challengers Ruby Rivlin (Likud) and Collette Avital (Labor). Both candidates dropped out in the second round of voting, handing the octogenarian Peres an easy victory in his second bid at becoming Israel’s president. Seven years ago, he lost to Katzav in the second round.
Nearly 1,000 guests attended the swearing-in ceremony. Among those in attendance were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinish, government ministers and Knesset Members. In addition, family members of Israel’s kidnapped soldiers, residents of Sderot, and expellees of the former Jewish communities of Gush Katif were on hand.
Before heading inside for the ceremony, Peres inspected an Israel Defense Forces honor guard, and laid a wreath at the monument to fallen IDF soldiers, located at the entrance to the Knesset building..
Peres also spoke of the importance of his serving as president to all citizens of Israel, and not only to particular sectors within the Israeli population.
"I am no longer the messenger of a party, but a trustee of the nation. From this moment I will be the voice and the address for every citizen of the state of Israel, for every baby and child, for women and men, for the poor and the elderly. My home will be open to all; my hands will be extended to each and every one," Peres said.
A President for all the People of Israel?
While Peres insisted his office will represent the entire nation, Israel’s new President drew the ire of many Sunday in comments to the Associated Press. He told the AP, "We have to get rid of the territories [Judea and Samaria]. I won't make any secrets of my mind. I shall respect the minority. I shall not insult them. I changed my position. I didn't change my beliefs and concepts."
Peres is the architect of the Oslo accords and the peace process with the PLO. In 1994, Peres won a Nobel Peace Prize together with the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the peace talks. Peres initially began the talks illegally with Arafat, without Rabin’s knowledge. Rabin then allowed the negotiations to continue.
The fateful peace process and the resulting intifadas have claimed the lives of over 1,500 Israelis. Peres was also an ardent supporter of the Disengagement.
Peres has repeatedly referred to those Jews who opposed his vision of a “New Middle East” as enemies of peace, equating them with Hamas terrorists and suicide bombers.
Activists from the Jewish Front protested outside the Knesset Sunday, carrying signs that read: "We shall not forget and we shall not forgive," "Bring Oslo criminals to justice," and "Peres is worse than Katzav."
From Poland to President
Shimon Peres (Szymon Perski) was born in Poland in 1923 and immigrated to the Holy Land, Palestine, with his family in 1934.
During his political career, he represented five parties in the Knesset (Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labor and Kadima), and has led two of them (the Alignment and Labor). In 2007, Peres was nominated to run in Israel’s presidential elections by the Kadima party founded by Ariel Sharon in 2005.
Peres has served in a wide range of government and political party posts in Israel for over 50 years, including Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister. He has been a Member of the Knesset since 1959.