Israel's Shimon Peres on turning 90

Lyse Doucet
Chief international correspondent
@bbclysedouceton Twitter

media captionLyse Doucet spoke to Israel's President Shimon Peres in the run-up to his 90th birthday

Turning 90 is a landmark for anyone. It's even more extraordinary if you're still playing a major role at the helm of your nation.

President Shimon Peres, the world's oldest head of state, is even older than his country. And he's played a decisive role at every juncture of Israel's 65-year history as it's lurched from war to peace, or, at least, in an embattled peace process.

President Peres was the driving force behind the building of Israel's formidable military machine, including its nuclear power. And he was also a main negotiator on its peace treaties, including the interim Oslo accords with the Palestinians signed 20 years ago.

So is he a hawk or a dove?

"I was a hawk as long as there was a danger to Israel," he told me in a BBC interview to mark his 90th birthday. "If someone wants to kill you you are a hawk. If someone wants to make peace with you, you are a dove. It's as simple as that."

Shimon Peres is the last of Israel's founding fathers. In some ways, his story is Israel's story.

Even though he kept losing elections, he still managed to always remain at the centre of Israeli political life, holding almost every key position over more than six decades.

His critics call him vain, his supporters praise him as visionary.

And now the ambitious politician who made many political enemies along the way is a president enjoying far greater popularity.

In this largely ceremonial role, his impact on policy is less significant.

But Mr Peres is still active behind the scenes as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators begin another daunting effort to resolve major obstacles that still stand in the way of a final peace deal.

There's much pessimism, but at 90 Shimon Peres says he still hasn't given up.

Lyse's interview with Shimon Peres can be seen on Our World on the BBC News Channel on Saturday 3 August at 1430, 2130 and Sunday 4 August at 0330, 0530, 1030, 1430, 2130 (all times BST) and on BBC World News on Saturday 3 August at 1630 and Sunday 4 August at 1730 and 2230 (all times GMT). It is also available on BBC iPlayer.

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