The father of Israeli 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."
In 1984, Eban declined to accept a ministery without portfolio in the national unity government. He also refused a nomination as Speaker of the Knesset, asserting that he was built for polemics and not consensus. Instead, he enjoyed serving as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where he continued to push for policies in favor of a diplomatic solution.
He also employed his sharp wit as a frequent critic of government policies, even after Labor joined the ruling coalition. He quipped that Yitzhak Shamir's ascendancy to prime minister as part of the rotation agreement was "the tunnel at the end of the light," and memorably dubbed the Pollard affair an "anthology of blunders."
Eban's honest, sharp ripostes sometimes fell on unappreciative ears within his own party, and after being humiliated by the Labor central committee, which pushed him way down the Knesset list in the 1988 party primaries, he resigned from politics.
Eban believed not unjustly that his attainments were higher than his domestic political position, and he regretted that his success on the world stage was not always properly appreciated here. Still, during the last decades of his life, Eban gained an international reputation as one of the most outstanding writers of his generation. His early works had included a 1939 preface to a new edition of Leo Pinsker's Emancipation, and in 1944 he wrote The Modern Literary Movement in Egypt.
Among his subsequent major works were The Maze of Justice, Zionism and the Arab World, Tide of Nationalism, and My People, My Country.
His New Diplomacy was incorporated into university curricula in Britain and the US, and his speeches were made into records. Eban's mammoth television series, Civilization and the Jews was viewed by an estimated 50 million Americans and was shown in many other parts of the world. The accompanying book achieved a best-seller record for non-fiction; it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.