Shimon Peres was sworn in as Israel's ninth president in a festive ceremony at the Knesset Sunday evening.
Hundreds of people arrived at the Knesset including former politicians, foreign ambassadors, and artists, in order to witness the event.
In his acceptance speech, Peres said, “I never dreamt of becoming president. As a boy I dreamt of being a shepherd or a poet of the stars,” Peres said during the ceremony. “Now that I am elected, I see it as a privilege and do not take it lightly.
New president on his way to swearing in ceremony (Photo: AP)
“As president one must be respectful of the law, bolster the judicial system and the executive branch and respect the minority. The president must encourage peace processes – in Israel, with our neighbors and in the entire region.”
Israel’s ninth president went on to say “your trust is dear to me; it bestows upon me a great obligation, one that I will carry with me as president. I promise to nurture those delicate strings of cloth that hold us together as a nation…We must remember that we are all the sons and daughters on one Israel. We have no other country, and we are not looking for one either.
“Israel must be a warm home for non-Israeli Jews and for non-Jewish Israelis and create equal opportunities for all segments of the population, regardless of race, religion, sex or nationality.
Peres continued, “The president must call on the religious and secular public to find common ground and urge the Palestinians and the Arab countries to take part in the great journey toward a world that is built on logic, not just land.
“Even at this time of celebration, I bemoan in my heart the assassination of (former prime minister) Yitzhak Rabin. A great leader was taken from us. At this time of celebration I pray for the recovery of (former Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon, the great warrior and brave leader.”
Turning his attention to kidnapped IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the president said “they are our sons. We will not stop until they are returned home.”
Yariv Ben Eliezer, grandson of David Ben Gurion, was asked what his grandfather, Israel’s first prime minister and one of Peres’ mentors, would have said if he were there to see Peres on his special day.
“Grandfather would have been very proud of Peres. He anticipated great things for him,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “This is a big day for Israel. Peres is one of the most prominent personalities in the history of the country. No one is more popular in the entire world, and the way he is viewed is reflected on the country as a whole.”
Ruth Dayan, widow of former Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan, was also present at the ceremony. “I’m very excited. I think that with Peres as president, there is hope for peace at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
About 950 people were invited to the ceremony. Olmert, Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinish, government ministers, Knesset members, and millionaire Arkadi Gaydamak were on hand at the ceremony.
In addition, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik invited family members of terror victims and casualties of war, and relatives of kidnapped soldiers. Evacuees of Gush Katif, and Sderot residents were also present at the ceremony.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Peres said he would not be constrained by his new job's figurehead status, or his age.
“If you are healthy and clear-minded, what's wrong? I'm not in a hurry to pass away,” Peres said. “The day will come that I shall not forget to pass away. But until then, I'm not going to waste my life.”
While aware of the constraints of the new job, Peres said he would not halt his crusade for peace with the Palestinians.
He said that would require Israel to withdraw from significant pieces of territory captured in the Six Day War - a position still opposed by large parts of the Israeli public.
“We have to get rid of the territories,” he said, referring to the West Bank, insisting that this is the majority view in Israel today.
“I won't make any secrets of my mind. I shall respect the minority. I shall not insult them,” Peres said. “I changed my position. I didn't change my beliefs and concepts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article