Jordan: The Ubiquitous Partner - the Jordanian Option Resurrected

By Talhami, Ghada | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Jordan: The Ubiquitous Partner - the Jordanian Option Resurrected


Talhami, Ghada, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


SEVERAL FACTORS COMBINED TO INSURE a perpetual role for Jordan in the affairs of neighboring Palestine. Although a young state created from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, Jordan and its dynasty harbored territorial ambitions dating back to the Arab Revolt of 1916. Throughout its history, Jordan chafed at the international borders drawn by the colonial powers to separate one Arab entity from the other. Created as a state in order to provide partial compensation for the pro-British policies of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, Jordan, as well as Iraq, became the two Hashemite Kingdoms of Hussein's two sons Abdullah and Faisal. Abdullah, founder of the Jordanian dynasty, clung to a modified version of a great Arab Kingdom which his father espoused by developing the Greater Syria concept. This design included Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. As the two republics of Syria and Lebanon went their own way under the control of local elites, only British-controlled Palestine remained susceptible to Abdullah's intrigues.

Thus, the dynastic factor combined with the greater geopolitical realities of Palestine and Jordan, especially the Jordan River as a shared border, to keep official Jordanian interest alive. Added to this was Britain's role as the Mandate power over the two entities, a situation which provided limitless opportunities for maneuvering and deal-making. Specifically, Jordan's rulers began to intervene in the affairs of Arab Palestine by posing as the intermediaries cum spokesmen for Palestinian Arab factions. This role began during the impasse of the 1936 Arab Strike in Palestine, when the Jordanian ruler began to support the more accomodationist Palestinian faction and advise a gradualist approach to the Palestinian national question.

Jordan, finally, realized its greatest opportunity with the withdrawal of the British from Palestine in 1948 and the outbreak of Arab-Jewish hostilities. As one of several Arab armies which joined the hostilities, Jordan emerged in physical control of eastern Palestine, including the eastern portion of Jerusalem. This reality resulted from Jordan's commitment of its best British-trained troops to the battlefield, and from Jordan's willingness to abide by the United Nation's partition plan of 1947. Its willingness to defend only that portion of Palestine which was designated as Arab Palestine in General Assembly Resolution 181, earned for Jordan the appreciation of the Powers. As the only Arab state to accept the partition plan de facto, Jordan's willingness to play by the West's rules separated it from the rest of the Arab states in the eyes of the Powers. Technically speaking, Jordan rejected the partition plan as all the other Arab states did, since the resolution denied the historic rights of the Arabs of Palestine. Thus, Jordan's annexation of eastern Palestine, which it proceeded to call the West Bank, was much more acceptable to Britain and the U.S. than an independent Palestine. What facilitated Jordan's plans was the collapse of the Government of All Palestine which represented Palestinian aspirations for independence, after a brief tenure in Gaza. However, this Jordanian dependence on Western goodwill came at a price, namely an undeclared Jordanian policy of avoiding military confrontation with the state of Israel.

Jordan, nevertheless, was never insulated from internal public pressure or the powerful external currents of Arab nationalism. These forces combined to secure Jordan's participation in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, that resulted in the loss of the West Bank to Israel. Later on, Jordan began to lose its West Bank bases of support. This did not happen because of Jordan's failure to defend the area militarily, but because of its failure to prevent the economic integration of the West Bank with Israel or to prevent severe Israeli abuse of Palestinian human rights. By 1987, when the Intifada broke out, Jordan held the West Bank by a tenuous thread. …

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