Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Eban Abba exchange, part 3: What could current-day Israel learn from Eban's diplomacy?

Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal

Eban image from article

Dr. Asaf Siniver is Associate Professor (Reader) in International Security at the University of Birmingham, UK. He specialises in the politics, diplomacy and history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with particular emphasis on the role of external actors in the conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  ...
This exchange focuses on Dr. [Siniver’s latest book, Abba Eban: A Biography (Duckworth Overlook, 2016). Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. ...
Dear Shmuel,
There is very little in modern Israel that resembles the country which Eban defended so indefatigably some six decades ago. Eban’s Israel was always virtuous yet spirited; besieged yet heroic; a perpetual victim and rarely an aggressor. As the Washington Post once noted, Abba Eban’s supreme achievement was that he always judged “the grievances and rights of Israel against the ennobling perspectives of history and conscience. He is a people’s advocate – but his theme is universal justice. Such a universalist and humanist approach is perhaps less noticeable in today’s Israeli diplomacy than it was during Eban’s heyday. Shimon Peres’s famous maxim that good policy doesn’t need Hasbara (public diplomacy), and bad policy can’t be helped by the best Hasbara in the world, is certainly unsupported by Eban’s experience. During his ambassadorial years in the 1950s Eban was called repeatedly to defend his government’s actions before the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, from Israel’s decision to divert the water of the Jordan River and the disastrous military retribution against the Arab village of Qibya in 1953 to the collusion with the French and British governments to strike against Egypt in 1956. A decade later US president Lyndon Johnson told his advisors that Foreign Minister Eban’s performance at the UN following the 1967 Six Day War “was worth several divisions to Israel.” Of course, Eban’s words alone could swing the votes at the UN General Assembly (of that Eban famously said that “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions”), but his spirited and eloquent performances helped to create a more positive image of Israel abroad.
One of Eban’s most important contributions – and one which is often under-appreciated - is his contribution to the development of the special relationship between Israel and the United States. ...

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