It did not end until Arafat died in 2004, bringing new leadership to the Palestinians and a new effort at coexistence led by Mr. Sharon, a former hawk who had been elected prime minister. He withdrew Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza and small parts of the West Bank.
Mr. Peres had tried before to get a peace settlement, in 1987, between Israel and Jordan. He was foreign minister in a coalition government with Yitzhak Shamir when he proposed an international peace conference on the Middle East. But Mr. Shamir and his Likud faction scuttled the plan.
Mr. Peres had sought to settle the future of the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel had occupied since the Arab-Israeli War in 1967. As a first step, he proposed that Jordan and Israel could either divide the land or share the government but that Israel should not control the area forever.
Mr. Peres brought a period of tranquillity to the social environment, which had been frayed by animosities between European and Middle Eastern Jews and between religious Jews and secular Jews.
He presided over the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon after an invasion that had generated unprecedented controversy, and he became the first Israeli prime minister to take the difficult steps required to deal with the nation’s fundamental economic problems and ruinous inflation.
During his time in office, Israel airlifted some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews who had trekked to refugee camps in Sudan to escape famine, anti-Semitism, forced conscription of boys and other threats that had made their lives in Ethiopia precarious. Mr. Peres called the clandestine rescue operation a “daring and wonderful” act of “self-redemption.”
Taking over what was expected to be a government of national impasse, Mr. Peres left office with an image as a dignified, self-confident statesman.
But while he was prime minister, severe strains developed in relations between the United States and Israel growing out of a major spy scandal involving an American, Jonathan Jay Pollard, and the disclosure in 1986 of Iranian arms deals.
A man of medium height and slender, athletic build — his dark hair turned gray and then white in his later years — Mr. Peres always exuded vitality, despite a schedule that kept him going 18 hours a day. When, on his 88th birthday, he was offered a traditional Jewish greeting, “May you live till 120,” he retorted without missing a beat, “Don’t be stingy.”
Mr. Peres was married to the former Sonya Gelman, who shunned the spotlight to the point of refusing to move into the president’s house when he took his last public post. She died in January 2011. They had three children: a daughter, Zvia, and two sons, Jonathan and Nehemya. They and Mr. Peres’s eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren survive him.
Mr. Peres was an effective speaker, comfortable in front of large audiences as well as the television camera. He cultivated party members — remembering their names and attending their weddings and bar mitzvahs — and nurtured his relationship with the intelligentsia.
He also wrote poetry and was given to quoting the ancient Greeks and Flaubert and Churchill. He published a dozen books, including “The New Middle East,” in 1993, and “Battling for Peace,” a memoir, in 1995. His last book was an affectionate political biography of his mentor, the country’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
A Journey From Poland
He was born Shimon Persky on Aug. 16, 1923, to a merchant family in the small village of Vishniewa, Poland. His parents, Yitzhak and Sara Persky, took him to Palestine when he was 11, where he studied in Tel Aviv and then entered an agricultural school.
In 1941, he helped found Kibbutz Alumot in the eastern Lower Galilee, where he worked as a herdsman and was elected kibbutz secretary. He soon became active in the Mapai, which was to become Israel’s Labor Party, and at 18 was appointed the coordinator of the youth movement of the Histadrut, the General Labor Federation.
He rose rapidly, getting experience in the intricacies of Israeli political life. In 1944, Ben-Gurion, then the head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, sent Mr. Peres with a small reconnaissance group to Eilat on the Red Sea to survey the Sinai Desert and make maps, which became important strategic assets during the 1948 war of independence.
It was on that mission that a friend sighted a nest of eagles, “peres” in Hebrew. “Persky,” he said, “why don’t you change your family name to Peres?” He accepted the suggestion, though the bird they saw was in fact more a vulture than an eagle.
When Israel became independent in 1948, Mr. Peres was named head of the naval service. Within two years, he was sent to the United States to lead a defense supply mission in New York. He was 27 and spoke no English, but within three months, after rounds of intensive private lessons, he was fluent. He took courses at the New School for Social Research and New York University, and later at the Harvard School of Public Administration.
In 1951, Ben-Gurion, then prime minister and minister of defense, appointed Mr. Peres director general of the Defense Ministry, where he used his Harvard training to reorganize the department. Mr. Peres became known as one of “Ben-Gurion’s boys” — protégés of the “Old Man” — a group that included Teddy Kollek and Moshe Dayan.
Those years may have been the genesis of a lifelong rivalry with Mr. Rabin, who at the time was chief of the operations branch, the second-highest position in the Israeli Army. He complained of what he called Mr. Peres’s excessive authority.
At the Defense Ministry, Mr. Peres was in charge of a substantial portion of the nation’s total budget, and he played a central role in developing the young nation’s industry, particularly in aeronautics and electronics.
He stressed domestic weapons production, but when Egypt received advanced military equipment from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Mr. Peres began to cast about for new sources of supply. He finally turned to France.
His timing was excellent. The French believed the Algerian revolutionaries fighting for independence were fueled by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and saw Israel as a source of intelligence about Egypt. Mr. Peres negotiated a $1 billion arms deal and acquired a reputation as a canny bargainer.
The arms negotiations formed a basis for the Franco-Israeli alliance that led to Israel’s lightning capture of Sinai in 1956. Zeev Schiff, for many years the military editor of the newspaper Haaretz, said, “There is no doubt that Peres was one of the brains behind Suez.”
Ben-Gurion felt that a pre-emptive war was bad for Israel in terms of public opinion and was reluctant until the last. Mr. Peres saw it as an opportunity to get a better position among the superpowers, a special relationship through a “joint venture of going to war together.”
Out of that joint venture came French help in building a nuclear reactor in Dimona, which provided Israel with the ability to build nuclear weapons.
“I reached the stage in France where I was trusted by everybody, and really the sky was the limit,” Mr. Peres said many years later.