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We just marked 103 years since British issued the famous Balfour Declaration

Balfour was historic, but the San Remo conference set into motion rebirth of the Jewish state – here’s the story few know

Last week marked 103 years since the British War Cabinet issued what later would be referred to as the Balfour Declaration, promising British support for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.

Still, what happened three years later in 1920, as this unilateral declaration was made legally binding under international law, is still unknown for most people, even among friends of Israel.

The San Remo Peace Conference, which came together in the small city of San Remo on the Italian riviera from April 19-25, 1920 incorporated what had essentially been a British foreign policy objective, the Balfour Declaration, and made it into legally binding international law.

To understand the significance of this decision one only needs to look at the reaction of Chaim Weizman, who represented the Zionist organizations in San Remo and would later become the first president of the State of Israel.

He called the San Remo resolution “perhaps the most momentous political event in the whole history of our people since the exile.”

So how can it then be that so few people know about this landmark event?

The answer is simple.

The minutes of the San Remo resolution were for many years hidden and forgotten in the British National Archives in London.

It would take until the early 2000 until legal scholars such as Howard Grief and Jacques Gauthier made them available for a wider public.

In 2010 these findings were given even more prominence as the European Coalition for Israel (ECI) hosted the 90th anniversary of the San Remo peace conference on site in San Remo.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the San Remo resolution.

The event was celebrated on April 26 through a live broadcast from Jerusalem with greetings both from the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But more importantly, for the first time in modern history, other world leaders also officially recognized the significance of the San Remo resolution.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote in his message that “one of the seeds of the Israeli olive tree, which was to become the symbol of the Jewish state, were planted in Italian soil in San Remo.”

U.S. Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo wrote, “ This historic agreement marked the world’s embrace of the unbreakable connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.”

Other government leaders who sent their personal messages to the celebration included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, just to mention a few.

While these recognitions were historic, they were also long overdue.

This is unfortunate.

The San Remo resolution confirmed once and for all the existing historical connections between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

When the issue of borders for (what would later become) the Jewish state was discussed in San Remo by the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers (France, Italy, Britain and Japan – the U.S. was an observer), British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was crystal clear.

For him the national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel stretched from Dan to Beersheba, the biblical phrase used in the Old Testament for the territory allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel.

The prime minister, who had lost his own father at an early age, had been brought up by his uncle who was a Baptist preacher and Bible teacher.

It was said about David Lloyd George that “he knew more about biblical geography in the Holy Land than he knew about Eastern Europe.”

In a day and age when the legitimacy of the Jewish state is being questioned by some, the San Remo resolution presents a solid legal foundation.

Looking at the legal language used in the Mandate for Palestine – which two years later became the official policy of the League of Nations – it should be noted that it does not speak about “creating” a new state but rather about the “reconstitution” of the Jewish state.

In other words, the Jewish people were to be given back that which had once been taken away from them by their expulsion from their ancestral homeland by the Romans in AD 70.

San Remo did not create any new rights for the Jewish people; it only affirmed already existing historical rights.

In this way it also marked the beginning of the decolonization process and would later become a great source of inspiration for many African colonies in their own aspiration for statehood.

The Balfour Declaration, which set all this in motion, should therefore be celebrated by all those who believes in national self-determination for all people groups.

In the case of Israel, the San Remo resolution clearly states that this right belongs to the Jewish people.

What about the Palestinians?

Neither the San Remo resolution of 1920, nor the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, recognize any people group called Palestinians. They spoke only about Jews and Arabs residing in what was then called “Palestine.”

However, in 1921, Palestine was divided up into an Arab part, later called Jordan, and a Jewish part, today’s Israel, in what many historians refer to as the ultimate two-state solution.

This does not prevent today’s Israeli government from negotiating still another settlement with (what since 1964 has generally been referred to as) the Palestinians.

More than a century after the Balfour Declaration, still another aspect of the document should be implemented.

The Balfour Declaration promised religious and civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, but also the same rights for Jews living in any other country.

The Jewish state has long honored this commitment for its Arab minority.

With the Abraham Accords, Jewish rights in Arab countries can soon become reality.

Tomas Sandell is the founding director of European Coalition for Israel (ECI), which organized both the 90th and the 100th anniversary of the San Remo resolution.

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