SAN REMO ANNIVERSARY…..TODAY IN HISTORY
Salomon Benzimra, P.Eng
Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights – CILR
The Middle East keeps making the headlines. The carnage in Syria, the weekly violence in Iraq, the political instability in Lebanon, the uncertainty in Turkey, the threat posed by Iran in the region, all seem to take a backseat to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perennial pursuit of the “peace process.” A lasting peace seems like a chimera chased by indefatigable peace processors – U.S. Secretary Kerry’s initiative being the last one in a long line of failed attempts since 1993.
When the resolution of a complex problem hits a stalemate repeatedly and almost predictably since its inception, the smart thing to do is to revisit the fundamentals, long forgotten in the past twenty years of diplomatic frenzy. A look back at recent history is essential.
Ninety-four years ago today, on April 25, 1920, the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the U.S. as an observer) gathered in San Remo, Italy, and ruled on the disposition of the Middle East territories previously held by the defeated Ottoman Empire, after having heard the claims of both the Zionist Organization, headed by Chaim Weizmann, and the Arab Delegation, headed by Emir Faisal, at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
The San Remo Conference was a momentous event in that it drafted the map of the Middle East as we know it today: Over 97% of the land was adjudicated to the Arabs, which resulted in the creation of the new exclusively Arab states of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and, later, Jordan. The geographic region known as “Palestine” was designated as the Jewish National Home, to be reconstituted there in consideration of the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land. National rights were exclusively granted to the Jewish people collectively, while the non-Jewish people of Palestine were granted individual civil and religious rights.
These were the terms used in the San Remo Resolution – later confirmed in the Mandate for Palestine (1922) and approved by the 52 members of the League of Nations – to highlight the pre-existing rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, hitherto known as “Palestine” since Roman times. These documents, and the ensuing Franco-British and Anglo-American treaties that were separately signed in the early 1920s, are based on the Mandates System stipulated in the Covenant of the League of Nations and are therefore binding to this day under international law. The acquired rights of the Jewish people to the land west of the Jordan River are preserved in the UN Charter and in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, even though the Mandate for Palestine expired in 1948 when the State of Israel was proclaimed.
The usual detractors of Israel regularly ignore, dismiss or strongly reject the validity of the provisions listed above. But their arguments ring hollow:
They claim that the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers had no authority to create a new political entity in Palestine. They forget that in the wake of World War One, the same Supreme Council created new countries in Europe (Yugoslavia, Hungary, the Baltic States and a reborn Poland) on the ashes of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
They claim that a Jewish home “in Palestine” was not intended to be “in all of Palestine.” Had they read the full text of the Mandate for Palestine, they would find 15 instances of the phrase “in Palestine” which cannot leave any doubt as to the inclusion of the whole territory.
They claim that the purpose of the “Jewish National Home” mentioned in the Mandate was not to lead to a sovereign Jewish state. Here again, they are most selective in their singling out Israel, because not only all the neighbouring Arab states were created through the same Mandates System, but even Mandate territories in far less developed areas in Africa and elsewhere became sovereign states in the second half of the 20th century, such as Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.
But among all Israel’s detractors, the Palestinian Authority showed a particular animosity against San Remo. A document issued on April 25, 2011, by WAFA, the official press agency of the Palestinian Authority, shows that “[San Remo] is the root of all Palestinian catastrophes and sufferings” and bashes the San Remo Resolution as the work of “Zionist gangs.”
Now is the time to give precedence to factual evidence over biased opinion. On this 94th anniversary, we should remember that territorial claims on Palestine were finally settled at the San Remo Conference. Diplomacy should not be forever divorced from international law.
Salomon Benzimra, P.Eng.
Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights – CILR