Shimon Peres' choice: be Machiavelli or be naïve

Israeli President Shimon Peres has spoken of the tremendous personal sacrifices demanded by his political career, admitting that the decisions he made meant he never had a restful night.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres exclusive footage

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres exclusive footage
Duration: 2:04 Views: 18k Exclusives

In this world exclusive clip showing the opening of The Price of Kings - the latest in a series of twelve feature-length documentary films profiling world leaders - the 87 year-old, referred to by many as the 'father of Israel', reveals himself to be a reluctant leader who has accepted the responsibility of power at a significant personal cost.

Describing himself as "a prisoner of circumstances", he admits, "Leadership is not a very happy engagement... What is better, to be a Machiavelli, smart and strong? Or to be naiive? I didn't go to sleep easily - never."

MSN was the first media outlet to be given access to the controversial film, which premiers in the UK on Thursday and presents a candid and emotional glimpse into the life of the statesman.

Twice prime minister of Israel, Peres boasts a political career older than the Jewish state itself, spanning more than 66 years and launched with high ranking military and diplomatic role in Israel's War of Independence. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1959 and has served in leadership positions continuously since, representing a total of five different political parties.

"People started to shout at me, 'killer, murderer, look what you did to us!'

Perhaps his most notable, and contentious, political triumph was as architect of the Oslo Accords - an historic peace deal stuck with the Palestinians in 1994, which earned him both the Nobel Peace Prize and the hatred of many nationalistic Israelis, who claim Peres' sacrifice of Israeli claims to land in the West Bank was an act of supreme betrayal.

The Oslo peace process, driven by Peres and overseen by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was the first time Palestinians and Israelis had met for formal negotiations. They resulted in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat denouncing terrorism, recognising the Jewish state of Israel and accepting a claim to 24% rather than 48% of the traditional lands of Palestine.

Shimon Peres: The Price of Kings

Shimon Peres: The Price of Kings

One of the many Israeli extremists who were outraged by Oslo assassinated Rabin during a peace rally in November 1995. The tragedy propelled Peres back into the role of prime minister as Israel was hit by a campaign of bloody suicide bombings, for which many Israelis held him personally responsible.

"People started to shout at me, 'killer, murderer, look what you did to us!'... I stood stunned What could I say?... My heart was broken but that was not a reason to change my mind about peace with the Arabs... I felt more obliged," Peres explains, demonstrating a characteristic prioritisation of public duty over personal cost.

The film also dwells on the damage that political responsibility has wrought on the president's family life, in particular on his late wife, Sonia - "the great love of my life". Sonia Peres opposed her husband's decision to accept the presidency in 2007 and refused to move with him to the presidential residence. She died in January last year.

"I think I did my duty, occasionally mistakenly but always in good faith"

In an emotional interview, his grand-daughter Mika reveals that she and her family struggled to accept that for her grandfather, Israel was always the priority. "We know we don't come first," she says. "As a teenager I felt angry about this. It's not easy to accept.".

Richard Symons, the British film-maker who was granted unprecedented access to the Israeli president said him a conflicted man: " He was ready to reveal what it's like to send men to die, sacrifice family for country, compromise your conscience - basically take the most difficult decisions a man can take and then live with the consequences.

"He has overseen the building of this country and is now in a position where the peace process is not moving forward and he [as president] cannot legally criticise the government. We got the impression he felt handcuffed."

Despite acknowledging candidly the many frustrations and shortcomings of his political and personal life, Peres maintains a philosophical acceptance. "I think I did my duty, occasionally mistakenly but always in good faith and with a sense of obligation," he says.