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Person of the year in Israeli diplomacy: Shimon Peres
By GREEG FAY CASHMAN
29/12/2013
The president's contribution to any positive image that Israel has in the world cannot be denied.
 
Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the views of President Shimon Peres, his contribution to any positive image that Israel has in the world cannot be denied.

At 90, Peres is currently the world’s oldest head of state – and it’s not just a matter of chronology. He also happens to be healthy in mind and body, and has extraordinary mental and physical stamina for a person his age. He can respond to a series of comments made by speakers at a conference, recalling their remarks in the correct order, and can stand or walk for long periods, as frequently happens when he receives the credentials of foreign diplomats or hosts receptions for visiting heads of state.

He is a frequent flier who in his present capacity has represented Israel in some two dozen European and Asian countries, as well as in North and South America. Unless he returns home on a Thursday or Friday, there is no gap in his working week. He immediately resumes his duties, which inter alia include partially or fully writing his own speeches and holding regular meetings with the prime minister, heads of the intelligence and defense establishments, and leading academics – especially those dealing with hi-tech or brain research – captains of industry and prominent cultural figures.

Peres is a man who likes to keep his finger on the pulse of all that is happening around him, and is thrilled by innovation. He hosts receptions for social welfare organizations, think tanks, academic institutions, sporting organizations, ecumenical groups, the diplomatic community and more. He is in frequent communication with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and with Israel’s Arab leadership.

Foreign dignitaries and missions to Israel literally beg to meet him and, better still, be photographed with him. If Peres charged a token fee to every person with whom he has posed for a photo, and contributed the proceeds to the government, he might reduce Israel’s national deficit by a considerable sum.

Also fluent in English and French, he can spontaneously deliver a one-hour speech in either of those languages, and has been known to throw away a prepared text because of a last-minute development.

While most people his age are very set in their ways, Peres is spontaneous and goes with the flow. He travels to towns, villages and IDF bases all over the country and is an avid theater and concert goer. He is an annual visitor to the Ein Gev festival.

He has a remarkable rapport with young children and never patronizes them, but talks to them as if they are adults. He is also extraordinarily well read, and when meeting visitors from abroad will often quote from one or more of their country’s most famous authors or poets.

He has met many of the world leaders of the 20th century, several of whom were personal friends. He loves to tell stories about them to new ambassadors representing those countries. So many of these leaders have faded from the world stage while he himself soldiers on.

Despite many failures in his long political career and quest for peace, Peres remains the eternal optimist and, even at 90, a renaissance man.

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