Abba Eban

The father of Israeli diplomacy.

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On the eve of the Six Day War, Eban traveled to Paris, London, and Washington to seek support as Arab armies massed on the borders, determined to exhaust every diplomatic option before turning to the use of force. Be he soon discovered that in spite of the justice of its cause, Israel had to face the enemy alone, and Eban ultimately joined with the cabinet majority voting for preemptive military action.

Eban complimented resounding military victories with inspiring diplomatic rhetoric. His powerful speech at the UN during the war, declaring "Never in history has there been a more righteous use of armed force," was one of his finest hours. He subsequently oversaw the crafting and the passing of Security Council Resolution 242, more than 35 years later still the keystone of Middle East diplomacy.

During the Eshkol and Golda Meir governments, Eban aligned himself solidly behind the cabinet doves. He rejected the notion that Israel should rule over the Palestinians and abhorred the idea of expanded borders which would change the character of the state. He pleaded for moderation.

Eban commanded tremendous respect abroad, but both his politics and his personal style--his immaculate dress in suit-and-tie and his impeccable, grammatically perfect Hebrew and English often made him appear out-of-step with his more rough-and-tumble colleagues and constituency.

On the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Eban was in the US, where he again addressed the UN General Assembly and conducted daily contacts with the State Department. He spent the first two weeks of the war in feverish consultations with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, seeking immediate military assistance, and after the war negotiated the subsequent disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria, conducted during Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy."

Eban led the delegation to the Geneva peace talks, where speaking his excellent Arabic, he offered the Arabs peace with honor (he later made the oft-quoted observation that "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity"). But the public remained more apprehensive and skeptical of Arab intentions, and criticism of Eban mounted on the right. Such criticism was one of the reasons why Eban did not pick up the option for the premiership after Meir resigned in 1974, and he did not join new Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's cabinet. The two had not gotten along when Rabin had served as ambassador to the US after Rabin appointed Yigal Allon as Eban's successor.

The Opposition MK and Educator

Eban embarked next on a prolonged series of lectures abroad, and upon his return taught at the University of Haifa and continued to serve on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In May, 1975 he presented his own plan for an overall peace with the Arabs, calling for withdrawal from most of administered areas in return for Arab acceptance of a list of "15 components of peace."

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Alexander Zvielli

Alexander Zvielli is a veteran journalist with the Jerusalem Post.