Nadav Tamir, former chief advisor to late Israeli President Simon Peres, speaks of him with reverence in his voice. Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, served as president from 2007-2014 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in the Oslo Accords. Tamir is currently a senior advisor for governmental and international affairs with the Peres Center for Peace, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to world peace and preserving Peres’ legacy. He traveled to Madrid on June 19 for the Sefarad-Israel Center’s commemoration of Peres’ 100th birthday. In an interview with EL PAÍS, Tamir said Israel is experiencing an “awakening” of sorts, a hopeful period inspired by the liberal majority’s massive demonstrations against the Netanyahu administration’s unpopular judicial reforms.
Question. Simon Peres defended peace and a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. But before that, he helped create the Israeli military apparatus and authorized, as Minister of Defense, the first Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Answer. Peres was active in politics for many years, and he evolved as did Israeli politics. I asked him once, “When did your focus shift from defense to diplomacy and peace?” He said it was when he realized that Israel is strong and when our neighbors realized that we’re here to stay. He believed that the best way to make Israel safe is to have peace with our neighbors. As for the settlements, it was a political compromise. If he were alive now, he would probably regret that decision, but he would also look to the future and not the past.
Q. On June 19, five Palestinians, including a teenager, died during an Israeli army raid in Jenin [West Bank]. What remains of the Oslo Accords legacy?
A. Terrorism was still happening even as those peace agreements were being forged. But Peres would not allow terrorism to destroy the goal of the accords and the two-state solution.
Q. Do you believe that all the Palestinians who are dying in this conflict are terrorists?
A. Of course not. Many innocent Palestinians have suffered, just like many non-combatant Israelis. And this is precisely why it’s paramount that we put an end to this conflict. Unfortunately, there are those who believe no peace talks are possible while there is still terrorism. As believers in peace, it is our duty to strive for it tirelessly, despite the threat of terrorism.
Q. Has settlement expansion made the two-state solution unattainable?
A. It is not only possible, but also inevitable. The pressing question is: how much bloodshed and anguish must we endure before we have resolution? There are viable solutions in the peace accords regarding the settlements, yet we lack the political will to pursue them.
Q. Where will this political will come from when Israel has its most far-right government in history and the Palestinian leadership is facing a legitimacy crisis?
A. Perhaps because of the current government, Israel is experiencing a liberal awakening of the majority. It has been slumbering for years, waiting to implement start-up exit strategies and enjoying the Tel Aviv foodie scene. But now the ideological vote has taken to the streets. That’s why I believe this is one of the most hopeful times in Israel’s history. Sometimes you need a government like this to wake everyone up. Not only do we have to reverse this administration’s legal coup d’etat, we must also seize the moment and understand that, after 75 years of independence and 56 years of occupation, it’s time to change course. The international community must aid Palestine in conducting democratic elections so it can establish a representative leadership that serves the population in Gaza and the West Bank.
Q. By “legal coup d’etat,” do you mean Netanyahu’s reforms aimed at weakening the judicial branch’s position in government, which has triggered a wave of protests?
A. What you call a judicial reform is a legal coup d’etat to the protestors. I don’t think it will be successful because most Israelis are liberal and want to live in a democracy. They won’t allow it to happen. So even if the bill moves forward, I think it would lead to a constitutional crisis in which the Supreme Court and the attorney general will declare the legislation unconstitutional. Most of the country will side with the law and not with the government.
Q. What do you think will be the political cost of that judicial reform?
A. I don’t think the current ruling coalition will last long. I believe that in the next elections, Israel will choose the center-left. That reform has hurt our economy since the day it was first proposed. The leaders of our very productive high-tech sector said we cannot be a “start-up nation” without democracy. The most important reserve units of the Israel Defense Forces have claimed their patriotism lies in putting their lives on the line for their country, but not for a dictatorship.
Q. U.S. President Joe Biden has yet to meet with Netanyahu, a first for an Israeli prime minister after winning election.
A. That Netanyahu wasn’t invited to the White House shows he paid a price for it [the judicial reform]. We see that his party and its partners are dropping in the polls, while the liberal camp is growing. This moment will likely go down in history as a critical turning point for Israel. Civil war should never be our path, unlike the Americans who needed one to fight for their rights and free themselves from slavery. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see how Jews all over the world have supported the protests. Simon Peres once taught me that optimism is the greatest force for change, for making our world a better place. I am very optimistic about a future where Israel is a homeland for Jews, yet also a democracy where every citizen, Jew or non-Jew, is equal.
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