The San Remo Conference — 100 Years On
There is probably no more understated event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict than the San Remo Conference of April 1920.
Convened for a mere week as part of the post-World War I peace conferences that created a new international order on the basis of indigenous self-rule and national self-determination, the San Remo conference appointed Britain as the mandatory for Palestine with the specific task of “putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917, by the British Government [i.e., the Balfour Declaration], and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
This mandate was then ratified on July 24, 1922 by the Council of the League of Nations — the post-war world organization and the UN’s predecessor.
The importance of the Palestine mandate cannot be overstated. Though falling short of the proposed Zionist formula that “Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people,” it signified an unqualified recognition by the official representative of the will of the international community of the Jews as a national group — rather than a purely religious community — and the acknowledgement of “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home in the country.”
It is a historical tragedy therefore that 100 years after this momentous event, the Palestinian leadership and its international champions remain entrenched in the rejection not only of the millennial Jewish attachment to Palestine, but of the very existence of a Jewish people (and by implication its right to statehood).
Rather than keep trying to turn the clock backward at the certain cost of prolonging their people’s statelessness and suffering, it is time for this leadership to shed its century-long recalcitrance and opt for peace and reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors.
And what can be a more auspicious timing for this process than the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Conference?
Efraim Karsh is a Research Professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London; Director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank; and editor of the Forum’s flagship publication, The Middle East Quarterly.
To view a detailed report on the San Remo Conference, please visit the BESA Center.