Former Israeli diplomat Nadav Tamir discussed the future of the Middle East and answered questions at UChicago Hillel on Monday.
Tamir served as Israel’s consul general to New England and a political officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. He was also a close policy advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who founded the Peres Center for Peace in 1996, where Tamir currently works as a senior advisor.
The speech focused on the three issues facing Israel that he finds most pressing: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the struggles for democracy in neighboring Egypt and Syria, and Iran’s growing regional power.
Tamir endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for immediate negotiations between the two parties. “There is a majority in Israel for a two-state solution,” he said. “There’s even a majority in the Knesset [Israeli legislature]…. If there are not two states between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, eventually we’ll have to choose between being a home for the Jewish people and being a democracy, and that will be the end of Zionism.”
He expressed hope that Israel and Palestine could one day be friendly as separate nations, much as the relationship between France and Germany evolved from that of enemies in World War II to allies today.
“Maybe it will be the same with [Israelis and] Palestinians” one day, Tamir said, but added, “Before we have a good marriage, we need a good divorce.”
Tamir also encouraged patience with the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East in light of the Arab Spring and the ongoing civil war in Syria. “If you went to France a few years after the French Revolution, you wouldn’t see *liberté, equalité, fraternité*,” he said. “You would see much more beheading by Robespierre, you’d see Jacobin terrorism. It needs time. The Middle East is changing, but it’s changing for the better.”
Such change can be seen with Iran, Tamir said. He voiced support for Barack Obama’s nuclear deal and suggested that Iran has the potential to become the most democratic nation in the Arab world. “Iranians are very much like us Israelis in so many ways. They just have the wrong regime.”
Tamir explicitly distanced himself from Israel’s current leadership multiple times, condemning the existing administration and calling for more moderate voices.
He called it “quite clear” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be indicted, following the announcement this February that Israeli police were recommending that Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud, and corruption. The prime minister has so far refused to resign.
Tamir also discussed the non-political side of Israel, calling the country “one of the most innovative and creative places on Earth.” He said that Israel has the highest rate of startups per capita in the world, as well as the greatest number of companies on the NASDAQ outside of the United States and China.
“One of the things that makes both Israel and the U.S. very innovative is that we’re countries of immigrants,” Tamir explained. “It creates synergy, this energy, in countries where people come from different perspectives, different cultures, and different languages. This is the story of America, and it’s also very much the story of Israel.”
The event was co-hosted by Hillel and J Street UChicago in advance of their joint trip this weekend to the J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference will feature prominent speakers, including Senators Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders, and will revolve around the “fight for democracy, tolerance, and diplomacy-first policies that advance a better future.”