After the conclusion of the First World War, a conference was convened at San Remo, taly, in 1920, which gave legitimacy to the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine under the protection of Britain. At the San Remo Conference, Britain and France divided the Turkish Empire in line with their long held ambitions.

During the 19th century there were clear signs of the disintegration of the Turkish Empire. Britain, France, Russia and the other European powers began pondering the chances of dismembering Turkey’s territorial possessions, but could not agree on how to distribute the spoils. This was what was called the ‘Eastern Question’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries: Turkey was the ‘sick man’ of Europe, and the Great Powers of the day were impatient to divide his estate.

The First World War brought matters to a crisis. Turkey entered the war on the side of Germany and this gave Britain in particular the opportunity she desired: to partition the Ottoman Empire to her advantage. Britain’s desire was to ensure the security of her Empire after the war by gaining control of Palestine and other strategic areas of the Middle East.

During the war, Britain had made agreements to divide the Middle East into spheres of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916 divided the Ottoman Empire between France and Britain with portions to Russia and Italy. Britain had also issued the Balfour Declaration on 2 November 1917, favouring “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”1

At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference met in 1919 and 1920 to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers, Germany and Turkey. As it soon became evident that it would take some time to work out the details of a peace agreement with Turkey, the Conference decided that the Arab provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire should be detached from Turkey and dealt with separately.

The San Remo Con­ference was convened to decide, in effect, the future of the Middle East. The Conference was attended by Britain, France and Italy, and representatives of Japan, Greece, and Belgium.3 Some of the Arab territories were not to be given independence immediately but were to be placed under a mandate system, a form of trusteeship intended to lead to complete self-government and independence.

Most importantly, the Conference confirmed the intent of the Balfour Declaration to favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and it was agreed that Britain be given the mandate for Palestine. Two mandates were created out of the old Ottoman province of Syria with the northern half (Syria and Lebanon) given to France, and the southern half (Palestine) to Britain.

Thus at San Remo, British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine was recognised by the representatives of the countries at the Conference. The terms of the Mandate for Palestine, drafted by the British and endorsed by the Conference, quoted the Balfour Declaration in full.4 The final text of the British Mandate5, which was confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations in 1922, charged Britain with responsibility for putting into effect the Balfour Declaration. This encouraged the Zionist leadership in Palestine to openly declare their determination to build a Jewish state, while it created Arab resistance to Jewish enterprise in the land.

Over 70 years earlier, in 1848, Brother Thomas wrote in Elpis Israel that Jewish colonists would return to Palestine “under the efficient protection of the British power.”6 Britain as the latter day Tarshish7 would assume a protectorate over the land of Palestine and favour the restoration of the Jews. But, like any other human government, Brother Thomas reasoned, Britain would act out of “lust of dominion, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement.”8

Britain’s role has been decisive in the return of the Jews to Palestine. Acting in self-interest, Britain was instrumental in creating circumstances that led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. As Brother Thomas observed, “The finger of God has indicated a course to be pursued by Britain which cannot be evaded, and which her counsellors will not only be willing, but eager, to adopt when the crisis comes upon them.”9 Britain, after the First World War, was both willing and eager to accept the mandate for Palestine, but eventually she lost control of the country because she failed to recognise that the set time to favour Zion had come (Psa 102:13).

There remains, of course, a future role for Britain in the purpose of God. In Ezekiel 38, the merchants of Tarshish are among the few powers that resist the northern invader of Israel (v13). After Gog and his forces have been defeated, Tarshish will be one of the first Gentile nations to submit to the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ when the kingdom of God is established (Isa 60:9; Psa 45:12; 72:10). A step toward that future role has recently been made by Britain’s separation from the European Union.

References

  1. Text in: The Israel-Arab Reader, revised edition, edited by Walter Laqueur, Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1970, p. 36.
  2. Also known as the Versailles Peace Conference.
  3. “Conference of San Remo,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Last Updated: Apr 12, 2020, online at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Conference-of-San-Remo
  4. Christopher Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, London: Mentor, 1967, p. 47.
  5.  For the full text of the British Mandate as approved by the League of Nations, see: The Israel-Arab Reader, p. 54-61.
  6. John Thomas, Elpis Israel, 14th edition revised, Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1958, p. 441-442.
  7. For the identification of Tarshish with Britain, see Islip Collyer, Vox Dei: a Defence of Simple Faith, 3rd edition, Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1963, p. 131-132.
  8. Elpis Israel, p. 445.
  9. Elpis Israel, p. 442.