This weekend marked the centennial of the San Remo Conference, a 1920 meeting convened by the victorious Allied powers of World War I to assign Mandate territories from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, including the Mandate for Palestine. The far-right Israeli NGO Im Tirtzu made sure the anniversary did not go unnoticed, organizing a virtual conference on Sunday to celebrate “the historic event that codified the Jewish People’s rights to the Land of Israel into international law.” When Im Tirtzu talks about rights to the Land of Israel, they are of course referring to the whole of the Land of Israel, including the West Bank. But does Im Tirtzu’s reading stand up to scrutiny?

The event’s lineup featured an array of right-wing academics and pundits. The conference featured Professor Eugene Kontorovich, head of Kohelet Policy Forum, and Professor Avi Bell, also of the same organization. Kontorovich has testified before Congressional committees on several occasions in recent years, and his Jerusalem-based think tank was the venue for a January speech by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman in which the American envoy cited Israel’s “unassailable right to settle in Judea and Samaria.” Kohelet also actively advises members of Knesset and parliamentary committees.

The conference also featured Professor Avi Bell, also of Kohelet. Breitbart and Israel Hayom columnist Caroline Glick also spoke (her one-state manifesto, The Israeli Solution, received glowing reviews from John Bolton and then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence when it was released in 2014). Yishai Fleischer, another panelist, is the international spokesman for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

So it is not a stretch to say the ideas expressed in Im Tirtzu’s conference have currency with the current administrations in Washington and Jerusalem, and if for no other reason than this, they merit serious analysis and understanding. Indeed, such an event takes on special significance as a new Israeli government prepares to annex parts of the West Bank with American backing.

It’s first worth considering why the San Remo Conference is such a fixture in the pro-settlement, pro-annexation narrative. After all, the centennial of the Allied powers’ meeting is hardly the first time San Remo has come up as justification for an expansive reading of Israeli claims in former Mandate Palestine. San Remo is cited in an official context in the Levy Report, a 2012 study commissioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to establish a legal basis for Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank.

The Mandate for Palestine, a product of the San Remo Conference, calls for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. For advocates of West Bank settlements, the amorphous notion of a “national home,” which, according to the Mandate, would undergo “close settlement,” by Jews is solid justification for settlement anywhere. And the territory assigned to Great Britain under the Mandate contained the land that would eventually constitute the State of Israel and the area that would become known as the West Bank after its seizure by Transjordan in the course of the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49. By this logic, San Remo sets an international legal precedent for Jewish settlement across all of Israel, the West Bank, and even in the Gaza Strip.

But the legal instrument that established the British Mandate after San Remo refers only to a “national home,” and makes no mention of independence nor of a state. The critical omission here is no accident; it is not as if the Allies were unfamiliar with the concept of national independence or states. Take, for example, the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, also conceived at San Remo, which explicitly calls upon France, the trustee overseeing those territories, “to facilitate the progressive development of Syria and the Lebanon as independent states.”

While “national home” is left undefined, It is nonetheless clear that the Mandate was not intended as a pretext for the creation of a Jewish state in all of Palestine, where Jews did not constitute anything approaching a majority of the population at the turn of the century.

The British government ultimately conditioned the Palestine Mandate on the London-based Zionist leadership’s acceptance of the 1922 White Paper. In the White Paper, Winston Churchill clarifies that the terms of the Balfour Declaration, itself the basis for the Mandate issued at San Remo, “do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home.” In other words, in the view of the government that crafted the Mandate, “in Palestine” never meant “in all of Palestine.” Thus, the very terminology today’s Israeli settlement leadership and annexationists see as an invitation for far-reaching claims to sovereignty was actually designed to provide the British wiggle room to limit Jewish territorial ambitions within the Mandate.

Interestingly, Israel’s founders borrowed this rhetorical maneuvering. Israel’s Declaration of Independence framed the nascent country as “a Jewish state in Eretz Israel.” Not a Jewish state in all of Eretz Israel. Not a Jewish state from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. By situating the new state within but not across Eretz Israel, the declaration fits comfortably within the parameters of both the relevant League of Nations actions and United Nations resolution 181, as well as accommodating conflicting positions among the early Zionist leadership.

The political context to the San Remo centennial celebrations also can’t be ignored. During Sunday’s Im Tirtzu conference, Kontorovich laid out the spurious claim that Donald Trump is the first American president to respect the understandings reached at the San Remo Conference. In fact, by recognizing the State of Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state in its founding documents and Basic Laws, every commander-in-chief since Harry Truman has carried out the spirit of San Remo. But now, Israel’s new government is poised to annex West Bank territory based on the framework set forth by the Trump administration.

This all addresses questions of territory, but what of the people who live in the territory and the pesky issue of democracy?

Right now, Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to a different legal system than their Israeli neighbors. From a democracy standpoint, there is nothing untoward about this arrangement if Israel’s control of the West Bank is understood as a military occupation, as is the consensus view outside of Washington and Jerusalem. But with annexation proceeding apace, this position may increasingly come to be seen as a legal fiction meant to cloak the reality that Israel no longer intends to ever evacuate the territories, and likely has not for some time. Barring an extension of citizenship to Israel’s Palestinian subjects in the annexed areas, it will be completely fair game to question Israel’s democratic credentials.

Some pro-annexation figures don’t actually contest this point; it’s simply that, for them, no democracy is no problem. Strangely enough, it seems that some settlement movement leaders and annexationists are actually in agreement with anti-Zionist commentators that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy. As Yishai Fleisher, one of the conference panelists, wrote recently in JNS, “The Jewish state would be a Jewish state by charter, not majority rule […] There was no intent [at San Remo] to back an untenable, all-out participatory democracy [in Israel].” The only reason anyone is still concerned about democracy is because “UN-touters” (Fleischer’s terminology) “are always stressing the contrived ‘Jewish and Democratic’ stipulation” (it may surprise Fleischer to learn that far from being contrived, “Jewish and democratic” is a formula embodied in Israel’s Basic Laws).

Why is democracy in Israel untenable but a non-democratic regime that is only nominally a Jewish state is a sustainable solution? Fleisher doesn’t say, and I would contend that the inverse is actually true.

If Israel annexes the West Bank, it can probably hold down the Palestinians for at least a few more decades through raw military strength, though we should not discount the cost in lives and treasure this kind of system could impose. However, for the last thirty years on the diplomatic front, Israel has only had to deal with an internationally accepted Palestinian leadership that supports a two-state solution. When annexation is implemented and the narrative among Palestinians shifts more decisively away from a nationalist struggle for statehood to a rights-based campaign for civil liberties and citizenship, Israel’s only recourse will be to explain why some of its subjects get rights and many don’t, and that is no defense at all.