The San Remo Treaty was signed at the San Remo Conference in April 1920 following World War I. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles ended World War I but did not resolve many complex issues surrounding the end of hostilities. The San Remo Conference, held in April 1920, was one of several conferences commissioned to address unresolved postwar issues. The most pressing problem facing the Allied powers at the conference was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Treaty of Versailles recognized the independence of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, former Ottoman territories, and created the League of Nations’ mandate system, it did not assign oversight mandatory powers. Based on Woodrow Wilson’s ideals, the mandate system classified these former territories according to the approximate time the Allied powers believed it would take each to achieve independent statehood. The San Remo Treaty designated Allied countries as mandatory powers to assist territories with political, economic, and nation-building initiatives. Once a country was able to govern itself, the mandatory power would withdraw from the country, but in practice the mandatory powers kept control over the territories until circumstances forced them to leave.

France was assigned mandates for Syria and Lebanon. Britain was assigned mandates for Iraq (Mesopotamia) and Palestine. One of the San Remo Treaty’s most important provisions regarded the Palestinian mandate. The World Zionist Organization, established by Theodore Herzl in 1897 to organize Jews throughout the world, wanted a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital. On the other hand, Sherif Husayn, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, desired an autonomous Arab state. During the war, Britain had entwined itself in several secret yet conflicting agreements with the rival sides. In 1915 Henry McMahon, Britain’s high commissioner in Cairo, agreed to support Arab independence if Sharif Husayn assisted the Allied cause by leading an Arab revolt against the Turks. In contrast, the 1917 Balfour Declaration declared Britain’s support for the establishment of a national home for Jewish people in Palestine.

Against Arab protests, the San Remo Treaty explicitly incorporated the Balfour Declaration within the Palestinian mandate by assigning the mandatory power responsibility for executing the declaration. Although it did not specify the creation of Palestine as a Jewish state and sought to guarantee the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population, the declaration and the Palestinian mandate itself did demonstrate British prime minister David Lloyd George’s affinity for the Zionist desire for statehood. British control over Palestine lasted until 1948, when Britain unilaterally terminated the mandate and withdrew its troops from Palestine, and Israel declared statehood, which resulted in the first Arab-Israeli War.

Bibliography:

  1. Friedman, Isaiah. The Rise of Israel: Riots in Jerusalem-San Remo Conference, April 1920. New York: Garland, 1987;
  2. Geddes, Charles L. A Documentary History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991;
  3. Ingrams, Doreen. Palestinian Papers, 1917–1922: Seeds of Conflict. London: John Murray Ltd., 1972;
  4. Tibawi, A. L. Anglo-Arab Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1914–1921. London: Luzac and Company, 1977.