Lausanne Conference Considers One Democratic State in Palestine / Israel

An international conference to consider “One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel” was held June 23-25 at the University of Lausanne/Switzerland. Organized by The Collective for Peace in Palestine/Israel, the gathering attracted some 150 Palestinian, Israeli and international intellectuals, academics and activists, including 45 speakers.

The banner welcoming participants to the meeting hall featured the disclaimer, “No anti-Semites on campus.” Also predictable were the prefabricated polemics and divisive maneuvers of a few who labeled some speakers anti-Semitic hate-mongers and criticized conference organizers for having invited them–”this in a transparent attempt to polarize the audience which, supposedly, was united in its support of one democratic state.

Not surprisingly, the conference did not gain media acclaim, or the approval of the Lausanne municipality to use its name as part of the initiative. That was understandable, of course, given that the initiative does not conform to the agenda of those who, in many if not most places, influence the media and politics.

Also as usual, a few narcissists came to promote themselves, their books, or their business. Other infiltrators attempted to pass ambiguous resolutions ignoring the Palestinians’ right of return, or equating it with the right of Diaspora Jews to return. Given the conference climate, however, these efforts made little headway.

All in all, the conference was positive, real, and may be considered an important milestone on the road to peace in the region. Not only was the general atmosphere one of mutual respect and objectivity, but there were enough people of ethics and courage to assess and attempt to resolve conflicting viewpoints. Their intellectual rigor also helped deflect attempts to reduce the discussion to a lovey-dovey dialogue. It should be noted that these serious participants working to defeat injustice in the hearts and minds of others were not politicians, but people using morality and the pen against opponents whose weapons are chairs and swords.

A New Secularism

One of the more stimulating and useful discourses concerned the secular nature of a future state, given its inhabitants’ general spiritual character. Participants clarified that what was proposed is not the “anti-religious” secularism practiced elsewhere, but rather a pluralistic religious coexistence within a broader umbrella of separation between the particularities of the various religious groups and the laws of the State.

Also analyzed was the concept of “democracy.” That beautiful word, it was noted, is not so reassuring to minorities when it is used solely to guarantee the satisfaction and protect the interest of the majority. While it might work well for a homogeneous population, it takes the dedication to and implementation of other commitments, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, public law and other measures, to protect the diversity, culture and heritage of all ethno/religious groups. It is especially under this “majority” model of democracy that concerns about demographic variables and the natural growth of a certain population become utterly racist and must be confronted legally.

The necessity of demilitarizing the future state, establishing its constitution and fixed borders, and ensuring that it redress the violated rights of its Arab citizens also were identified as key to gaining recognition and acceptance as a new, peaceful entity in the Middle East.

Acknowledging that some philosophers, writers and leaders have pondered the one-state option, conference organizers did not claim to be its originators. Their innovative contribution, however, was to solidify the concept by taking the time and effort to create the one-state collective, then call for the conference. Attesting to their effectiveness was the diversity of people in attendance, from veiled Muslim women to Hassidic Jews with curls and old European outfits.

Little more than a century ago, it is worth remembering, Basle, Switzerland hosted seven Zionist congresses, the first of which established the guidelines for the work of the Zionist Organization, from its creation to the founding of the State of Israel, in which women and non-Jews were denied the right to vote.

At the one-state conference, an elected committee was assigned to draft the declaration, which then was discussed word by word. Changes were made in a democratic way, with any participant able to suggest modifications, and the various suggestions voted upon. The final declaration (see box) was extraordinary in terms of addressing the forced partition of the territory in 1948 as the root of the conflict–”something almost entirely absent from current peacemaking proposals for the region.

The initiative provides a glimmer of hope at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is considered one of the world’s intractable conflicts, and the solutions that have been supported by the international community have been exposed as unfair and, more importantly, have so far failed to be endorsed by the people concerned. The question of international involvement was debated on several occasions, in fact, and there was a consensus that the future of our region hinges on the international community’s ability to further our aspirations to end our segregation. Foreign supporters, it was emphasized, should play a third-party role, opening closed doors and pushing aside obstacles. That differs from “being neutral”–”for no oppressed party appreciates the world’s neutrality and silence regarding its suffering. Far removed from the emotions and reactions of the battlefield, the international community can help us hold on to our morally justified and reasonable hope against the current “facts on the ground” and their affiliated political processes.

The Lausanne conference has served to establish Palestinians’ membership in a fair and just society–”even if still in the embryonic stage–”and our adoption of a noble ideal. It announces to those who, deluded, call for our separation that we think otherwise about what it takes to assure peace in the region. Our conference serves as an invitation to all peace lovers of the world to re-examine their support of splitting the homeland we all love.

The echoes of our call will emanate from here, amplifying and clarifying our message and purifying it from all distractions. Even if we do not realize our ideal today, we must guard and protect it for yet another generation.