Photo Credit: Unknown author
Delegates to the San Remo conference in Italy, 25 April 1920.

1.  Everyone knows about the Balfour Declaration, but most people know very little about the San Remo Conference, which was even more important. At San Remo, the nations of the world recognized our rights to our land – the entire land. This recognition was enshrined in international law and has not changed since. The current position taken by countries around the world regarding our rights distorts the truth and denies the rights that were given to us lawfully. Confusion exists between political and legal claims. The hostile international system, which has been fueled by antisemitism cloaked in opposition “only” to Zionism and Israel, has led to the denial of the rights that were given to us by law. On April 25, we marked 103 years since the historic conference on the Italian Riviera. There, the political and legal foundation was laid for the birth of the State of Israel 28 years later. A significant part of what I write here, I learned from Dr. Jacques Gauthier, who wrote a monumental PhD dissertation on the subject.

2. The Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, was a decision made by the British War Cabinet under the guidance of Lord Balfour. It expressed support for Zionist aspirations and acknowledged that after thousands of years of persecution and oppression, it was time to address the Jewish question. Britain did not yet control the territories in question, and therefore the declaration constituted an idea to be advanced.


The aspirations recognized by the British were clear: a national home for the Jewish people in their land. In the decades preceding the declaration, Zionism explicitly spoke of a Jewish state and the British recognized this. The land was not called “Palestine” on Ottoman maps, but in British history and political leadership circles, Palestine was the land mentioned in the Bible as the land of the Jews.

3. Four empires collapsed in the First World War: the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, German, and Ottoman. At the beginning of 1919, the victorious Allied powers – the United States and Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan – gathered in Paris. They imposed surrender terms on the defeated countries and formulated peace treaties. The powers were to receive the Ottoman Empire’s territories and were mandated to give them to others.

At the conference in February 1920, the Allied powers held a hearing for an Arab delegation led by Emir Faisal bin Hussein and for a Zionist delegation led by Chaim Weizmann. Prior to that, Faisal and Weizmann signed an agreement of mutual support, which included recognition of the Balfour Declaration and the Jewish aspirations regarding the Land of Israel. The Arab delegation demanded most of the Middle East and left the question of the Land of Israel to the decision of the powers and the interested parties (namely, the Zionist delegation!)

The Zionist mission demanded recognition of the historic ownership of the Jewish people over their land, to “reconstitute” what was once ours before we were exiled. The mission did not seek immediate independence, but rather a kind of trust (mandate) over the Land of Israel with international support, in order to encourage Jewish immigration that would eventually suffice for the establishment of an independent state. The map they presented was that of the biblical territory of the Land of Israel, on both sides of the Jordan River.

In the wake of the terrible human loss of World War I, United States President Woodrow Wilson led a program that aimed to offer a solution or political framework to prevent in the future, what the world had just experienced. This would lead to the Covenant of the League of Nations, adopted in April 1919, and included in the Treaty of Versailles in June, thus becoming binding. Article 22 of the Covenant contained a new idea that appeared for the first time: an international mandate aimed at helping peoples achieve political independence, but who in the meantime needed help developing the economic and political conditions that would enable them to run a modern state.

In the mandates awarded for Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, the beneficiaries were the Arab residents of those territories. Not so in the case of the Land of Israel; here, the beneficiaries were the Jews of the world, who mostly lived outside the land.

4. The powers had not yet dealt with the question of the Middle East, so they convened a year later, from April 19-25, 1920, at the Villa Castello Devachan in San Remo to decide how to respond to the demands of the Arabs and Jews. The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the French Prime Minister Alexandre Millerand, and the Italian Prime Minister Francesco Nitti were present, as well as the Japanese ambassador and an American representative. President Wilson was absent due to health issues and political calculations.

On April 25, the powers decided to respond to the demands of both sides. Regarding the Arabs, they recognized the tribes and ethnic groups in the Middle East as peoples and gave them vast territories to meet their aspirations.

As for the Jews, the powers turned the Balfour Declaration from an idea into a policy plan. They incorporated it into international law and ratified their support for the political aspirations of the Jewish people. The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, said that the Balfour Declaration was endorsed by the allies and that Palestine would in the future be “a national home for the Jewish race.” This is an important point: the decision recognized the right of Jews worldwide to this land, even those who were not yet living there. This right has not been revoked since.

When asked about the question of borders, the British prime minister who led the debate, answered, “From Dan to Beersheba.” The French prime minister asked what he meant, and the British prime minister referred to “Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land” by the Scottish theologian George Adam Smith. He presented the map of the united Israel kingdom during the time of King David and King Solomon. This was the document that the victorious powers relied on when they defined the borders of the territory given to us in the San Remo Resolution.

5. The events in San Remo in April 1920, Iyar 5620, were foundational historic events unparalleled since the destruction of the Second Temple in the first century CE and gave the Jewish people the right to re-establish an independent state in its historical homeland. Chaim Weizmann celebrated: “The decision in San Remo, this recognition of our rights in Palestine which was included in the treaty with Turkey (Treaty of Sèvres) and became part of international law – is the biggest political event in our movement [the Zionist movement]. And maybe, it would not be an exaggeration to say – in the entire history of the Jewish people since the diaspora.”

In the wake of the conference, the Sèvres Treaty was signed in August 1920, with Turkey renouncing its ownership rights over the territories in the Middle East in favor of the Allied Powers. Article 95 enshrined the text of the Balfour Declaration in international law. This is the Magna Carta of the Jewish people that was born in San Remo. Article 2 of the Mandate states: “The mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions…” What does the preamble state? That recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with their land and to their right to reconstitute their national home there.

This decision by the League of Nations has not been annulled since. Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, established after the Second World War, protects all the rights granted by the League of Nations prior to the signing of the UN Charter.

In my conversations with politicians and in my speeches before the two houses of the  Italian parliament, and the media, I reiterated that supporting a diplomatic compromise is one thing, but the statement that Israel violates international law by building settlements in its historical homeland is a lie because binding international law  – which Italy is a signatory to as the host of the historic San Remo Conference – has not changed since.

Now is the time for Education Minister Yoav Kisch to make the San Remo Conference part of the core study curriculum!

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}


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Dror Eydar has been appointed Israeli ambassador to Italy.