The San Remo conference was an international meeting of the post-World War I Allied Supreme Council, held at Villa Devachan in Sanremo, Italy, from 19 to 26 April 1920. It was 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 K. Matsui.
Resolutions passed at this conference determined the allocation of Class "A" League of Nations mandates for administration of the former Ottoman-ruled lands of the Middle East.
The precise boundaries of all territories were left unspecified, to "be determined by the Principal Allied Powers," and were not finalized until four years later. The conference decisions were embodied in the Treaty of Sèvres (Section VII, Art 94-97). As Turkey rejected this treaty, the conference's decisions with regard to the Palestine mandate were finally confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on 24 July 1922.
During the meetings of the "Council of Four" in 1919, British Prime Minister Lloyd George stated that the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence was a treaty obligation and the agreement with Hussein was the basis for the Sykes-Picot Agreement which proposed an independent Arab state or confederation of states. In July 1919 the parliament of Greater Syria had refused to acknowledge any right claimed by the French Government to any part of Syrian territory.
On 30 September 1918 supporters of the Arab Revolt in Damascus declared a government loyal to the sharif of Mecca, who had been declared "King of the Arabs" by religious leaders and other notables in Mecca. On 6 January 1920 Prince Faisal initialed an agreement with French Prime Minister Clemenceau which acknowledged "the right of the Syrians to unite to govern themselves as an independent nation". A Pan-Syrian Congress, meeting in Damascus, had declared an independent state of Syria on 8 March 1920. The new state included Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and portions of northern Mesopotamia which had been set aside under the Sykes-Picot Agreement for an independent Arab state or confederation of states. King Faisal was declared the head of state. At the same time Prince Zeid, Faisal's brother, was declared regent of Mesopotamia.
The San Remo conference was hastily convened. It was attended by the prime ministers of Great Britain, France, and Italy, and representatives of Japan, Greece, and Belgium.
Several issues were addressed: a peace treaty with Turkey, League of Nation mandates in the Middle East, Germany's obligations under the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, and the Allies' position on Soviet Russia.
Great Britain and France agreed to recognize the provisional independence of Syria and Mesopotamia, while claiming mandates for their administration. Palestine was composed of the Ottoman administrative districts of southern Syria. Under international law, premature recognition of its independence would be a gross affront to the government of the newly declared parent state. It could have been construed as a belligerent act of intervention without any League of Nations sanction.
For France, the San Remo decision meant that most of its claims in Syria were internationally recognized and relations with Faysal were now subject to French military and economic considerations. The ability of Great Britain to limit French action was also significantly diminished. France issued an ultimatum and intervened militarily at the Battle of Maysalun in June 1920, deposing the Arab government and removing King Faisal from Damascus in August 1920. In 1920, Great Britain appointed Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel as high commissioner and established a mandatory government in Palestine that remained in power until 1948.
Article 22 of the covenant was written two months before the signing of the peace treaty. It was not known at that time to which territories paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 would relate. The territories which came under the regime set up by this article were three former parts of the Ottoman Empire and seven former overseas possessions of Germany referred to in Part IV, Section I, of the treaty of peace. Those 10 territorial areas were originally administered under 15 mandates.
The decisions of the San Remo conference confirmed the mandate allocations of the First Conference of London (February 1920). The San Remo Resolution adopted on 25 April 1920 incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It and Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations were the basic documents upon which the British Mandate for Palestine was constructed. Under the Balfour Declaration, the British government had undertaken to favour the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine without prejudice to 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. Britain received the mandate for Palestine and Iraq; France gained control of Syria, including present-day Lebanon. Under the agreement, Great Britain granted France 25 percent of the oil production from Mosul and France undertook to deliver oil to the Mediterranean. The draft peace agreement with Turkey signed at the conference became the basis for the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. Germany was called upon to carry out its military and reparation obligations under the Versailles Treaty, and a resolution was adopted in favor of restoring trade with Russia.
Recognizing that not all parts of the Middle East were ready for full independence, mandates were established for the government of three territories: Syria and Lebanon, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine. In each case, one of the Allied Powers was assigned to implement the mandate until the territories in question could "stand alone."
In 2010, the town of San Remo marked the 90th anniversary of the conference with several events organized by the European Coalition for Israel and Canadian Supporters for Israel's Rights. A panel was held under the auspices of San Remo mayor Maurizio Zoccarato on the subject of the San Remo's legal significance for the status of Israel and Jerusalem under international law. Panel participants included Deputy Speaker of the Knesset MK Danny Danon, Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein and international legal expert Jacques Gauthier of Toronto.
According to Gauthier, the San Remo Conference was a “key defining moment in history” on the issue of title to Jerusalem, a sentiment expressed at the time by Chaim Weizmann, president of the Zionist Organization and later the first president of the State of Israel, who called it the “most momentous political event in the whole history of our movement, and it is, perhaps, no exaggeration to say in the whole history of our people since the Exile.”
At the 90th anniversary celebrations, Gauthier stated that the Jewish claim submitted to the world powers at San Remo was to be recognized as a people under the law of nations, to have the Jewish historical connection to what was then known as “Palestine” recognized; and to be granted the right to “reconstitute” Jewish historical rights in Palestine. While the Arabs also had claims on Ottoman territory, they were not specific to Palestine or Jerusalem.
Text of Resolution
San Remo Resolution - April 25, 1920
It was agreed –
(a) To accept the terms of the Mandates Article as given below with reference to Palestine, on the understanding that there was inserted in the process-verbal an undertaking by the Mandatory Power that this would not involve the surrender of the rights hitherto enjoyed by the non-Jewish communities in Palestine; this undertaking not to refer to the question of the religious protectorate of France, which had been settled earlier in the previous afternoon by the undertaking given by the French Government that they recognized this protectorate as being at an end.
(b) that the terms of the Mandates Article should be as follows:
The High Contracting Parties agree that Syria and Mesopotamia shall, in accordance with the fourth paragraph of Article 22, Part I (Covenant of the League of Nations), be provisionally recognized as independent States, subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The boundaries of the said States will be determined, and the selection of the Mandatories made, by the Principal Allied Powers.
The High Contracting Parties agree to entrust, by application of the provisions of Article 22, the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers. The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, 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.
La Puissance mandataire s’engage a nommer dans le plus bref delai une Commission speciale pour etudier toute question et toute reclamation concernant les differentes communautes religieuses et en etablir le reglement. Il sera tenu compte dans la composition de cette Commission des interets religieux en jeu. Le President de la Commission sera nomme par le Conseil de la Societe des Nations. [The Mandatory undertakes to appoint in the shortest time a special commission to study any subject and any queries concerning the different religious communities and regulations. The composition of this Commission will reflect the religious interests at stake. The President of the Commission will be appointed by the Council of the League of Nations.]
The terms of the mandates in respect of the above territories will be formulated by the Principal Allied Powers and submitted to the Council of the League of Nations for approval.
Turkey hereby undertakes, in accordance with the provisions of Article [132 of the Treaty of Sèvres] to accept any decisions which may be taken in this connection.
(c) Les mandataires choisis par les principales Puissances allies sont: la France pour la Syrie, et la Grande Bretagne pour la Mesopotamie, et la Palestine. [The officers chosen by the principal allied Powers are: France for Syria and Great Britain for Mesopotamia and Palestine.]
In reference to the above decision the Supreme Council took note of the following reservation of the Italian Delegation:
La Delegation Italienne en consideration des grands interets economiques que l’Italie en tant que puissance exclusivement mediterraneenne possede en Asie Mineure, reserve son approbation a la presente resolution, jusqu’au reglement des interets italiens en Turquie d’Asie. [The Italian delegation, in consideration of large economic interests that Italy as a power possesses exclusively Mediterranean in Asia Minor, reserves its approval of this resolution until the settlement of Italian interests in Turkey in Asia.]
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- "Conferees Depart from San Remo", New York Times, April 28, 1920, Wednesday. "CONFEREES DEPART FROM SAN REMO; Millerand Receives Ovation from Italians on His Homeward Journey. RESULTS PLEASE GERMANS; Berlin Liberal Papers Rejoice at Decision to Invite Chancellor to Spa Conference."
- August 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, articles 94 and 95 recapitulating the San Remo Resolution
- July 1922 text of the Palestine Mandate
- Palestine under the British Mandate, 1923-1948 (map)
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