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Abba Eban, 'The Voice of Israel', Buried - 2002-11-18

Veteran Israeli politician and diplomat Abba Eban, described by many as his country's greatest statesman, died Sunday and has been buried in Israel.

Mr. Eban, who died in a Tel Aviv hospital at age 87, was the dominant force in Israeli diplomacy during the first decade of the nation's turbulent history.

He came to prominence following the establishment of Israel in 1948, serving as its representative to the United Nations and ambassador to Washington.

1n 1959, he left the diplomatic corps and was elected to the Knesset, as a member of what later became known as the Labor faction.

Born in South Africa in 1915, his family moved to England when he was an infant. He was educated at Cambridge University and later appointed a lecturer there in Arabic and Oriental studies.

Fluent in 10 languages, it was at Cambridge that he first became famous for the eloquence of his rhetoric, in his speech as well as his writing.

He left Cambridge in the early 40s to serve with the British forces in Palestine and moved there in 1946. A year later he spearheaded the embryonic Israeli state's successful campaign for recognition in the United Nations. He continued to serve at the world forum, where he won praise for his skilful handling of Israel's frequently tense dealings with the international body.

In a long and brilliant career, he was dubbed by many as the voice of Israel. Here is how he defended Israel following the 1967 Middle East War:

What then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser had predicted, what he had worked for with such undeflecting purpose had come to pass, the noose was tightly drawn. On the fateful morning of June the fifth, 1967 when Egyptian forces moved by air and land against Israel, our country's choice was plain. The choice was to live or perish. To defend the national existence or forfeit it for all time. Neither seeking nor receiving help, our nation rose in self defense. So long as men cherish freedom, so long as small states strive for the dignity of survival, the exploits of Israel's defense forces on that day, will be told from one generation to another, with the deepest pride.

Mr. Eban, while a steadfast defender of Israel, was also known for his moderation and willingness to compromise.

Though he often praised the achievements of Israel's forces, he said military might was ultimately not the solution to the Middle East conflict.

"Once it becomes generally understood that a military solution is not feasible, and an imposed solution is excluded by the international realities of our times, a negotiated peace will emerge as the only valid alternative. The central aim of our policy is to create this consciousness. We aspire to break out of deadlock into a new vision and a new hope," Mr. Eban said.

He once famously lamented that most leaders and peoples only saw negotiations as a last resort.

"History teaches us that men and nations only behave wisely," he said, "once they have exhausted all other alternatives."