Lausanne Conference Considers One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel

By Jabr, Samah | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Lausanne Conference Considers One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel


Jabr, Samah, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


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. …

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