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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
At 6:30 p.m. this evening, Sunday, Shimon Peres will be sworn in as Israel's ninth president.
In his new role, Peres will make history in more ways than one. Aside from being the oldest person to become the country's No. 1 citizen, Peres is also the first former prime minister and longest serving member of Knesset to take on the mantle of the presidency.
Analysis: President Peres, it's going to be quite a ride
Sources close to Peres said his acceptance speech would focus on his plans for "advancing the Jewish people," healing relations inside Israel and advancing peace with the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors.
At Peres's request, international leaders will not attend the ceremony at the Knesset. Many world leaders inquired about coming, but Peres decided it should remain "an internal Israeli affair."
Former president Moshe Katsav informed Peres that he would not attend the ceremony. Peres's wife, Sonia, will make a final decision about whether to attend on Sunday, because of her heart condition, but sources close to the family said she was unlikely to come.
Peres received hundreds of letters of congratulations from leaders around the world, including the heads of state of the United States, Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil, and even Morocco, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Peres in which he expressed hope that as president, he would succeed in influencing other regional leaders to advance peace. He said, "Terrorists betray humanity and the fundamentals of the spirit and ethics - all of which are vital for achieving peace." He added that millions of people around the world, especially Israel's citizens, continued to encourage governments in the region to do everything possible to achieve peace and stability.
Peres decided last week that the director-general of Beit Hanassi will be Efrat Duvdevani, who held the same post at his Negev and Galilee Development Ministry. She will be the first female director-general of the president's residence.
Yoram Dori, the man closest to Peres, will be his top strategic adviser, Yonah Bar-Tal will serve in a senior role and Ayelet Frish will be his spokeswoman.
While there has been some controversy over the fact that Peres, a month in advance of his 84th birthday is embarking on a seven-year term, there are many who believe that this is a fitting way for him to crown a long and varied career of public service.
Born in 1923 in Visneva near Volozhin in what was then Poland, Peres arrived in Tel Aviv in 1934 and was enrolled at the Balfour Elementary School. He continued on to the Geula High School, where he became a member of Hanoar Haoved (Working Youth,) the junior wing of the Histadrut Labor Federation.
From there he went to the Ben Shemen Agricultural School and Youth Village, where years later, Israel's eighth president, Moshe Katsav, also became a student.
Peres joined the Hagana in 1941. He trained at Kibbutz Geva, from where he was sent to help found Kibbutz Alumot in the Jordan Valley. It was there that he came to the attention of future prime minister Levi Eshkol, who sent him back to Tel Aviv to work as an organizer for Hanoar Haoved.
In 1946, a year after his marriage to Sonia Gelman, Peres was a delegate to the 22nd Zionist Congress. There, he met David Ben-Gurion.
Ben-Gurion took a liking to Peres and another young man by the name of Yitzhak Navon. The affection and respect were reciprocated and the two young men became Ben-Gurion's lifelong disciples. Yitzhak Navon, who served as Ben-Gurion's secretary, later became the fifth president of Israel.
In the period leading up to Peres's election as president last month, Navon was heard to say on more than one occasion that no one was better suited for the role.
Indeed, there is hardly a subject with which Peres is not familiar.
He joined the fourth Knesset in 1959, and has been a member of every Knesset since, serving as temporary speaker, a member of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and in many other capacities.
His ministerial positions include two stints as prime minister and heading the Immigrant Absorption, Transportation, Communications, Information, Defense, Interior, Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Regional Cooperation, and Development of the Negev and the Galilee portfolios. He has also been deputy prime minister and vice premier. He was also leader of the opposition.
Before independence, Peres was in charge of manpower in the Hagana's high command. In 1948, up to and during the War of Independence, he was responsible for recruitments and arms purchases, and was head of Naval Services.
In 1949, he headed a delegation that went to the US to procure arms, and a year later he was back in the US to study at Harvard University.
Following his return to Israel, Peres was appointed deputy director-general of the Defense Ministry, serving in that position for one year until his promotion in 1953 to director-general. He remained in that position till 1959, when he was elected to the Knesset.
Peres undertook countless overseas missions, some of which included meetings with Arab leaders at a time when Israel did not publicly acknowledge such contacts with the enemy.
The architect of Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona, Peres was also the prime mover behind the Oslo Accords, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although many believe the optimism and euphoria that accompanied the Oslo Accords proved to be mistaken, and many of the hopes and aspirations evolved into nightmares, Peres never forsook his vision of a new Middle East and in 1996 founded the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, whose mission is to build an infrastructure of peace and reconciliation for and by the people of the Middle East, promoting socioeconomic development while advancing cooperation and mutual understanding.
The Peres Center's Board of Governors includes former heads of state of 38 countries.
Peres will be the country's oldest president and one of the oldest presidents in the world; at 29, he was the youngest-ever director-general of the Defense Ministry.
He has been married to his wife, Sonia, for 62 years. They have three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. As someone who has always been careful to stay out of the public eye, what part she will play as the wife of the president remains a mystery.
One of the first things that Peres will have to decide once he moves into Beit Hanassi, the presidential residence in Jerusalem, is whether to grant clemency to former deputy minister of national infrastructure Naomi Blumenthal, who has been convicted of bribery. Blumenthal's children appealed to Acting President Dalia Itzik to pardon their mother, in the hope that she could avoid going to prison and instead be assigned to additional community service. Itzik decided to leave the decision to Peres.