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Shimon Peres is elected Israel’s president

Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres was elected on Wednesday as the country’s president, earning him a national honor that crowns the political career of the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
/ Source: Reuters

Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres was elected on Wednesday as the country’s president, earning him a national honor that crowns the political career of the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Peres won the second round of a parliament vote in which he ran as the sole candidate after the two other contenders dropped out of the race and threw their support behind him.

Peres, who has never won a national election outright in Israel, has served twice as prime minister.

Peres’ election to the largely ceremonial post means he must step down as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s deputy, and taking him out of the running to succeed Olmert should the embattled leader quit over a report criticizing his handling of last year’s Lebanon war.

Born in Poland, Peres immigrated before Israel achieved statehood and rose through Labor's ranks as an ally of the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

As defense minister in the late 1950s Peres secured a secret deal with France to launch an Israeli nuclear program that the Jewish state has reportedly used to produce atomic weapons, though Israel doesn’t comment on this.

He served as prime minister from 1984 to 1986 then again in 1995 after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but never won an election for the position outright.

Nobel Prize
Peres won a Nobel prize alongside Rabin and the late Yasser Arafat for a 1993 interim peace deal, Israel’s first accord with the Palestinians that led to the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

In 2005 Peres bolted Labor to help found the centrist Kadima party alongside Olmert and Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister in a coma since suffering a stroke the following year.

In the second round of voting, legislators will vote by secret ballot whether they are for or against Peres becoming president. Israeli political commentators said he was certain to be elected.

Colette Avital of the center-left Labor Party, who polled 21 votes, and right-wing candidate Reuven Rivlin, with 37, announced shortly after the first round they were quitting the race and urged their supporters to back Peres.

Once elected, Peres would be sworn in next month when Moshe Katsav formally ends his seven-year term of office. Katsav is on a leave of absence since legal authorities said in January they intend to charge him with raping an employee and sexually assaulting several other women who worked for him.

Katsav denies any wrongdoing.

While the presidency does not entail any direct involvement in policymaking, Israeli presidents have traditionally spoken out on key issues, often influencing political decisions. The president also often holds talks with world leaders.