90 Years On

Castello Devachan stands on a hillside at the end of Corso degli Inglesi, overlooking the Italian Riviera town of San Remo. The villa itself has a chequered history, including use as the local Gestapo HQ during the Second World War, but its claim to fame dates from April 1920 when it was used by the newly-formed League of Nations to house a conference to decide the future of the Middle East in the aftermath of the First World War. Here lie the beginnings of the reborn State of Israel, and the Agreements made at that conference are still valid today and vital to a proper understanding of Israel’s right to its land, including territory currently occupied by Palestinian Arabs.

To celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the San Remo Agreement, the European Coalition for Israel held a commemorative event over the weekend of 24th/25th April this year. This took place on the same dates, and in the same place, as the original conference ninety years earlier. We came together to declare that the original agreement still stands to day, and to hear legal argument from international scholars concerning Israel’s current occupation of ‘Palestine’. This article is a summary of the information shared at the commemoration.

Before we examine the Agreement made in 1920, let us back-track a few years. In November 1917 Britain issued what has come to be known as the Balfour Declaration, stating that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing should 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.” At the time, the province of Palestine was still part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, with which Britain and her allies were at war.

 

The League of Nations

Within weeks of this Declaration being published, Britain had liberated Palestine from Turkish rule, and was therefore in a position to implement its policy. Watching from the other side of the Atlantic, US President Woodrow Wilson issued what has become known as the Fourteen Points. Included as part of point 12 was the statement that the “Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”. These fourteen points became generally accepted by other nations following the end of the War, and formed the basis for the League of Nations, which was established by the Treaty of Versailles.

We come now to the San Remo Conference, held at Villa Devachan from 19th to 26th April 1920. This was an international meeting of the post-World War I Allied Supreme Council, attended by the four Principal Allied Powers of World War I who were represented by the Prime Ministers of Britain (David Lloyd George), France (Alexandre Millerand) and Italy (Francesco Nitti) and by Japan’s Ambassador Keishiro Matsui. The USA were also present, with observer status. This Conference got to work on deciding the future of the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In accordance with Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points, the victorious allies were not going to acquire new colonies in the area, but were going to establish new sovereign states there over a period of time. The parties recognised that not all the areas of the Middle East were yet ready for full independence, so they agreed to set up Mandates for each territory, with one of the Allied Powers being put in charge of implementing each Mandate. Initially there were four Mandates agreed, for Lebanon, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine. In the first three Mandates, it was recognised that the indigenous people were able to govern themselves, with the Mandatory Power assisting in setting up the institutions of government where necessary.

The Mandate for Palestine

That was not true of Palestine, as this was to become a homeland for the Jewish people and the vast majority of them were not yet living in the Land. The Mandate for Palestine was thus completely different from the others, and set out how the Land was to be settled by Jews in preparation for when they could form a viable nation there.

There are a number of points which must be noted concerning this Mandate:

1. For the first time in history, Palestine became a legal entity. Hitherto it had been just a geographical area.

2. All prior agreements before the San Remo conference were terminated. This includes both the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Faisal-Weizmann agreement.

3. The Balfour Declaration was recognised and incorporated into international law.

4. Sovereignty over Palestine was vested in the Jewish people.

5. The Jewish people became the national beneficiary, based on self-determination, even though most of the Jews had not yet returned to their Land, because of their historical connection to it.

6. Transfer of the title on Palestine cannot be revoked, either by the League of Nations or the United Nations as its successor, unless the people of Palestine want to give up their title.

7. The Mandate for Palestine was to be given to Britain as the Mandatory Power.

8. The San Remo Agreement was included in the Treaty of Sèvres and confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on 24th July 1922.

9. The Arabs gained equivalent rights in Lebanon, Syria and Mesopotamia.

10. The San Remo Agreement marks the end of the longest colonised period in history, lasting around 1,800 years.

It is therefore very clear that the Jewish State draws its legal existence from the San Remo Agreement of 1920, and not the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 (Resolution 181). All 51 nations of the League of Nations voted in favour of this Agreement.

 

Boundaries of the Land

The exact boundaries of the Land covered by the Mandate for Palestine were not defined at

San Remo, and neither were the boundaries for the other Mandate territories. A map agreed by

Emir Faizal and Chaim Weizmann prior to the conference had placed the eastern border along

roughly the same line as the border from Second Temple times, but Britain decided that it

should be the Jordan River instead.

Article 25 of the Mandate for Palestine gave the Mandatory Power permission to postpone or

withhold most of the terms of the Mandate in the area of land east of the Jordan river, if it did not

consider them to be applicable. Britain exercised that power in a memorandum to the League

of Nations on 16th September 1922, which the League subsequently approved. This brought

into being a new Mandate, for Trans-Jordan, also to be administered by Britain. It is interesting

to note that the League of Nations referred to this territory as “The Trans-Jordan Province of

Palestine” right up until the last meeting of the League on 18th April 1946. Trans-Jordan (now

known as Jordan) gained its independence from Britain in 1946 when it became a Hashemite

Kingdom.

Since then there have been no other modifications to the Mandate for Palestine, and thus the

provisions of the Mandate are still applicable to the whole of the land of Palestine west of the

Jordan river, including what is today referred to as the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza Strip.

 

The end of the Mandate

History demonstrates clearly that Britain failed miserably to carry out the sacred trust invested in

it by the League of Nations. After the Second World War, the League of Nations was

disbanded and a new organisation, the United Nations, set up. This new body inherited all the

agreements made by its predecessor, including the Mandate for Palestine. In 1947 Britain

decided to terminate her stewardship of the Mandate, and notified the United Nations

accordingly. It should be noted that the Mandate itself was not terminated, but only Britain’s

stewardship of it. In a similar way, Britain’s stewardship of the Mandate for Trans-Jordan had

been terminated the previous year by that country being granted independence.

The UN proposed a Partition Plan for Palestine, recommending the setting up of an Arab state,

a Jewish state and an international zone to include Jerusalem. This Resolution (181) was only

a recommendation to consider partition. It was not an injunction that must be obeyed. The

recommendation was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arabs, and had no

legal validity once rejected.

When the State of Israel was declared at the end of the British Mandate period, it became the

fulfilment of the Mandate for Palestine, which had been created in order to bring about this

outcome in due course. Although the manner by which the fulfilment came about left much to

be desired, the Jewish State of Israel was what was envisaged by the writers of the San Remo

Agreement nearly thirty years earlier. Effectively, this was recognised by the United Nations

when it accepted Israel into membership on 11th May 1949.

 

Israel’s War of Independence

Immediately after Israel’s Declaration of Independence, five surrounding Arab nations invaded

the new state. By the time that hostilities ceased, Israel had lost some of its territory to the

attackers – the Golan Heights to Syria, Judea and Samaria (including the eastern part of

Jerusalem) to Trans-Jordan, and the Gaza Strip to Egypt. It is universally accepted that it is

inadmissible to acquire territory by attacking another country, so the actions of the Arab nations

were in fact illegal under international law. Whereas Syria and Egypt only occupied their

captured territories, Trans-Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria and called it the West Bank, in

order to link the territory with the East Bank of the Jordan. This annexation was only recognised

by two countries in the world, Britain and Pakistan, and has no effect upon the illegality of Trans-

Jordan’s acquisition of the Land.

 

The Six Day War

Israel’s Six Day War of June 1967 resulted in the recapture of those territories it had lost in

1948. From Israel’s perspective this was a defensive war, as Egypt, for example, had already

declared war by blocking the Straits of Hormuz in the Gulf of Aqaba. Similarly, shortly after the

war began, Jordan also declared war on Israel. There are therefore two excellent reasons why

Israel’s recapturing of the territories it lost in 1948 was not illegal.

1. The territories belonged to Israel, as the fulfilment of the Mandate for Palestine, in the

first place, so they were only retaking what already belonged to them anyway.

2. Israel was not acquiring territory as an aggressor, but in a defensive war forced upon it by

the surrounding Arab nations.

After returning the Sinai to Egypt in the peace agreement of 26th March 1979, the territory under

Israeli control was almost identical to that which comprised the Mandate for Palestine.

Subsequently, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip on 12th September 2005, but did not pass

control to any other state. Thus, legally, the Gaza Strip remains part of Israel’s territory, even

though not occupied by it at this point.

 

Illegally Occupied Territory?

It should be obvious from all this that the expression “illegally occupied territory” is totally

inapplicable to Israel’s presence in, for example, Judea and Samaria (the ‘West Bank’). A state

cannot ‘illegally occupy’ a territory that belongs to it in the first place!

I am sure that we are all well aware from the Bible that God has granted to the Jewish people

the whole of the land currently comprising the State of Israel, as well as Judea, Samaria and the

Gaza Strip. Israel’s legal entitlement to these lands confirms the Word of God on the matter for

those of us who believe the Bible. For others, and particularly for those who would deny Israel’s

right to the territories it recaptured in 1967, the legal case set out here is a challenge that needs

to be addressed.

 

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Jacques Gauthier BA, LLB, PhD; Howard Grief, author of “The Legal

Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law”; Salomon Benzimra P.Eng; and Eli

Hertz, President of Myths and Facts Inc, for material used in the preparation of this article.

Further information is available on www.mythsandfacts.org

 

Roy Thurley