One hundred years ago last month, the leaders of a handful of powerful countries convened at San Remo, a sleepy town on the Italian Riviera. Together, they sealed the fate of the massive territories confiscated from the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in the First World War.
It was on April 25, 1920, that the San Remo Resolution was passed by the Allied Supreme Council, establishing Western mandates over Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq). The last two were theoretically designated for provisional independence, while Palestine was granted to the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish homeland. “The Mandatory (power) will be responsible for putting into effect the (Balfour) declaration originally made on Nov. 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the resolution read.
Thus, the San Remo Resolution gave greater international recognition to Britain’s unilateral decision, three years earlier, to grant Palestine to the Zionist Federation for the purpose of establishing a Jewish homeland in exchange for Zionist support during the Great War. Just as in the Balfour Declaration, a cursory mention was made of the unfortunate inhabitants of Palestine, whose historic homeland was being confiscated and handed over to colonial settlers.
The establishment of that Jewish homeland, according to San Remo, hinged on some vague “understanding” that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” This sentence merely served as a poor attempt at appearing politically balanced, while in reality no enforcement mechanism was ever put in place to ensure that this “understanding” was ever respected or implemented.
In fact, one could argue that the West’s engagement with the question of Israel and Palestine has followed the San Remo prototype — where the Zionist movement (and later Israel) is granted its political objectives based on unenforceable conditions that are never either respected or implemented — ever since. Notice how the vast majority of UN resolutions pertaining to Palestinian rights are passed by the General Assembly, not the Security Council, where the US is one of five veto-wielding powers, always ready to strike down any attempt at enforcing international law. It is this historical dichotomy that has led to the current political deadlock.
Palestinian leaderships, one after the other, have miserably failed to change this stifling paradigm. Decades before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), countless delegations comprised of those claiming to represent the Palestinian people traveled to Europe to appeal to one government or another, plead the Palestinian case and demand fairness.
What has changed since then? On Feb. 20, the Trump administration issued its own version of the Balfour Declaration. The American plan — which would again flout international law — paves the way for further Israeli colonial annexations of the Occupied Territories. It brazenly threatens Palestinians that, if they do not cooperate, they will be punished severely. In fact, they already have been, with Washington cutting all funding to the PA and to international institutions that provide them with critical aid.
Some may rightly argue that the Trump plan and the San Remo Resolution are not identical, in the sense that Trump’s proposal was unilateral, while the former was the outcome of a political consensus among various countries, including the UK, France and Italy. However, two important points must be taken into account. Firstly, the initial Balfour Declaration was also a unilateral move — it just took Britain’s allies three years to embrace and validate London’s illegal decision to grant Palestine to the Zionists. The question now is how long will it take for Europe to do the same with Trump’s plan? Secondly, the spirit of all these declarations, promises, resolutions and deals is the same, with superpowers deciding, by virtue of their own massive influence, to rearrange the historical rights of nations. In some ways, the colonialism of old has never truly died.
The PA, like previous Palestinian leaderships, is presented with the proverbial carrot and stick. In March, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told Palestinians that, if they did not return to the (non-existent) negotiations with Israel, the US would support Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.
For nearly three decades now, and certainly since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the PA has chosen the carrot. Now that the US has decided to change the rules of the game altogether, Mahmoud Abbas’ PA is facing its most serious threat yet: Bowing down to Kushner or insisting on returning to a dead political paradigm that was constructed, and then abandoned, by Washington.
Palestinian leaderships, one after the other, have miserably failed to change this stifling paradigm.
The crisis within the Palestinian leadership is met with utter clarity on the part of Israel. The new Israeli coalition government — consisting of former rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz — has agreed that annexing large parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley is just a matter of time. They are merely waiting for the American nod. They are unlikely to have to wait long, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on April 22 that the annexation of Palestinian territories was “an Israeli decision.”
Frankly, it matters little. The 21st-century Balfour Declaration has already been made — it is now only a matter of making it the new uncontested reality. Perhaps it is time for the Palestinian leadership to understand that groveling at the feet of those who inherited the San Remo Resolution has never been the answer. Perhaps it is time for a serious rethink.
- Ramzy Baroud