The father of Israeli diplomacy.
From 1950 to 1959, he served simultaneously as the first ambassador to the US. He soon distinguished himself as a gifted orator, defending Israel in eloquent English not only against vicious propaganda, but almost as frequently against friendly critics, who spoke against Israel's counterattacks and initiatives in repelling Arab marauders.
Eban was summoned back home in time for the 1959 Knesset elections, in which he was a star in the Mapai campaign. He also served as president of the Weizmann Institute of Science between 1959 and 1966, where he proved his abilities as a scholar and organized numerous academic conferences. He was elected on the Mapai ticket to the Knesset and in 1960 became minister of education and culture.
In 1963, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol made him deputy prime minister, a post he held until 1966. In February 1966, Eban became the country's third foreign minister, a post he also held under premier Golda Meir until she was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. For many people, he was obviously the best choice for the post. In 1985, just before his 70th birthday, a public opinion poll revealed that he remained the public's top choice for the post.
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."
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