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San Remo Resolution Centenary

San Remo - 25 April 1920

San Remo Conference Delegate

The San Remo Resolution, in confirming international acceptance of the historic and religious rights of the Jewish people to Palestine, heralded the beginning of the end of the long journey to modern statehood and the Independence of Israel. The resolution defined the mechanism and borders for the establishment of the future Jewish state. Amidst the euphoria at the passing of the resolution, the Zionist leaders of the day could not have foreseen the adversity they would have to face before the inherent promise could be realised.

Mandates Established

Three years ago we celebrated the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was a promise rather than a statement of intent. The San Remo Resolution proposed by South African General Jan Smuts and passed on 25 April 1920, converted the Balfour Declaration into an internationally accepted statement of fact. The resolution provided the mechanism for the establishment of mandates for the governance of the former Ottoman territories of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, referred to as class A mandates. Former German colonies in Africa were allocated to Britain as Class B mandates with the exception of South West Africa, for which South Africa was given a Class C Mandate. These mandates were all written into the founding covenant of the League of Nations, which was drafted by General Smuts and British politician Lord Robert Cecil. Smuts dealt with the political issues such as the mandates, while Cecil dealt with administrative matters.

The San Remo Resolution meant that the Balfour Declaration became enshrined in the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine, which led Zionist leaders to euphorically believe that a national home for the Jewish people was finally on the horizon. Acting on the conviction that a Jewish homeland in Palestine was soon to be fact, the Zionist authorities, with British approval, arranged for the Jewish residents of Palestine to elect an Assembly of Representatives. This election took place on 19 April 1920, a few days before the vote on the San Remo Resolution was to take place, the result of which they had every reason to believe would be positive. Following the San Remo vote, the British government of the day wasted no time in appointing Jewish politician Sir Herbert Samuel as the first High Commissioner for Palestine, a post he took up on 1 July 1920.

Sykes-Picot and Paulette-Newcom

The San Remo Resolution was not only about a Jewish homeland, but also resulted in the establishment of the 10 Arab states of the Middle East or Hejaz. The Arab delegation to San Remo was led by Faisal, son of the Grand Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, who had declared himself the king of all Arab lands in October 1916. Faisal had a cordial relationship with Chaim Weizmann and had no objection to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. There is a belief in many circles that the San Remo Resolution lies at the heart of the current state of anarchy in much of the Middle East. I would argue that the San Remo Resolution is not at fault, but blame lies with the shortsighted, ill considered and illegal application of the Mandates by Britain and France. Rather than observe the terms of the Mandates, the two Mandatory powers carried out their obligations in terms of the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which was followed by the unilateral Paulet-Newcombe Agreement of 1923. This map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement tells the sordid story.

The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into zones of occupation and protection.

The Paulette-Newcomb Agreement between Britain and France unilaterally redrew the borders between Palestine (Israel), Lebanon and Syria. The map below shows the original mandate border with the Golan Heights part of Israel, while the next map shows the border as a dotted line excluding the Golan after Paulette-Newcom.

The Results of San Remo - 100 years later

100 years after San Remo, it is indisputable that there is only one success story in the Middle East, and that is the Jewish State of Israel. Following the 1948 War of Independence and the 1949 Armistice, the government of Israel, as a Jewish State, ensured that all the citizens of the country irrespective of race, creed or colour were equal before the law. The long established Jewish principle of respect and tolerance for others was firmly ensconced in the Declaration of Independence which says that “Israel is to be a state based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and peace, a state in which all the inhabitants will enjoy equality of social and political rights, along with freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. Most importantly, despite a small number of incidents, Israel has lived up to these ideals. In contrast, most Arab states paid no heed to democratic principles, while entrenching religious intolerance and a hatred for Israel.

Weizmann and Faisal had participated in the San Remo deliberations oblivious to the underhanded and dishonest conduct of the British and French prior to San Remo, which they perpetuated as the Mandatory Powers. By 1923 the Middle East was very different to what had been envisaged at San Remo a few years earlier, as a result of French and British perfidy. The Lloyd George government that had been instrumental in the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and the approval of the San Remo Resolution collapsed on 19 October 1922. Lloyd George was replaced by Andrew Bonar Law who led an ineffective government and was in turn replaced as prime minister by Stanley Baldwin on 22 May 1923. Baldwin was bad news for the Zionist movement as he enjoyed a close working relationship with William Joynson-Hicks, well known for his anti-Jewish sentiments. British policy under Baldwin and subsequent governments appeared designed to thwart Zionist ambitions where ever possible. Faisal who had proclaimed himself king of both Syria and Iraq, was thrown out of Syria by the French on 24 July 1920, leaving him as king of Iraq, a position from which he was deposed in 1933.

The British application of the Mandate resulted in Palestine east of the Jordan River becoming the Palestinian Arab homeland, while Palestine west of the Jordan River remained in flux, rather than becoming the Jewish homeland. The British decided to ignore the Mandate and steadfastly refused to apply its terms, rather artificially and illegally limiting Jewish immigration while simultaneously allowing an inflow of Arabs. The British government acted dishonourably in not allowing the unhindered establishment of a Jewish homeland, while rapidly establishing Arab Transjordan in the territory specified in the Mandate, with the current two state dispute the legacy of British duplicity.

Syria/Lebanon could have been very different. Lebanon, split almost equally between Muslims and Christians in 1920, with a small Druze population, is currently 61% Muslim and 34% Christian. The 1920 agreement in Lebanon was to have a Maronite Christian president, a Shiite Muslim speaker of parliament and Sunni prime minister while the deputy speaker and deputy prime minister would be Greek Orthodox Christian. As the population demographics changed to the current numbers, this arrangement evolved into a recipe for the disaster which Lebanon has become.

Turning to Syria, a quick glance at the Mandate map shows that there were to have been at least 4 separate states, and possibly 5, taking the Kurdish population into account. The French government decided to create a unitary state in total defiance of the terms of the Mandate, ignoring the heterogeneous composition of the population. The current crisis in Syria which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and a huge refugee problem, is a direct result of French governments that did not carry out their mandatory obligations.

Citizens of Israel can justifiably celebrate the San Remo Centenary, proud of a country that has achieved great success as a modern democratic industrialised state and global leader. This has been achieved despite the intransigence and dishonesty of successive British governments between 1922 and 1948. The citizens of Lebanon and Syria have nothing to celebrate about San Remo, with French policies having laid the foundation for mayhem and civil strife.

The background to the establishment of the Mandates and the part played by South African General Jan Smuts is explained with clarity by Isaiah Friedman in his book British Pan-Arab Policy, 1915-1922. To read an excerpt, click on this link

For the text of the San Remo Resolution which became article 22 of the League of Nations, click on

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