"Abba Eban came to us as history's gift. He departed, having gifted history with his unique contribution." With this elegant epitaph, Shimon Peres ended a superlative-studded eulogy from the Knesset podium yesterday of a man who so often stood on that same spot and captivated the House - Israel's premier statesman, Abba Eban.
The Knesset devoted the first hour of its business to a commemoration of Eban, who died last November, aged 87. "Never," said Deputy Premier Ehud Olmert, a political critic but personal admirer, "has anyone brought Israel's message to so many people, in so many languages, in so many different countries ... There was not a corner of the earth where he was not respected."
Olmert, speaking for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the government would find "a fitting way to perpetuate" Eban's memory.
The deputy premier traced Eban's "meteoric" career from his early days in the 1950s when he doubled as Israel's ambassador to the U.S. and to the UN through to the "epic struggles" he led for passage of Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
The political right in Israel, Olmert recalled, had balked at those resolutions at the time. "But now historic justice obliges us to admit that [the two resolutions] reflected a broad, statesmanlike perspective" of global realities and of Israel's fundamental interests. He noted that the two texts had remained the bedrock of national consensus over the past three decades. Olmert said Eban might "seem strange" by the criteria of present-day Israeli politics, and perhaps this strangeness had prevented him reaching the pinnacle of public life. Eban never held cabinet office after 1974. Peres said Eban might have been "different from many; but he aroused pride in all." He had "seized the horns of Israel's dilemma" - the constant conflict between its democratic values and its security situation.
Eban was also praised by his nephew, Labor MK Yitzhak Herzog, and by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Eban's widow Suzy, flanked by former premier Ehud Barak and several foreign service veterans, watched from the gallery.
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