The Old Hashemite Kingdom And Palestinian War

Old Hashemite KingdomDuring World War I the Arabs joined the British against the Ottomans. In a revolt of 1916, in which they were assisted by Colonel T.E. Lawrence, the Arabs cut the Hejaz railway. In July 1917 the army of Prince Faysal ibn Husayn (of the Hashemite dynasty) captured al-‘Aqabah, and by October 1918 Amman and Damascus were in Allied hands.

In 1920 the Conference of San Remo (Italy) created two mandates, allotting the one over Palestine to Great Britain and the one over Syria to France. This act effectively separated the area now covered by Israel and Jordan from that of Syria.

In November 1920 Abdullah, Faysal’s brother, arrived in Ma’an, then part of the Hejaz, with 2,000 armed supporters intent on raising the tribes to attack the French, who had forced Faysal to relinquish his newly founded kingdom in Syria. By April 1921, however, the British had prevailed upon Abdullah to take over as ruler of what then became known as Transjordan.

Hashemite LineEffectively, Turkish rule in Transjordan was simply replaced by British rule. The mandate, confirmed by the League of Nations in July 1922, gave the British virtually a free hand in administering the territory, although in September 1922 it was explicitly excluded from the clauses regarding the establishment of “a Jewish national home” and was closed to Jewish immigration.

The British recognized Transjordan’s independence under the rule of Emir Abdullah on May 25, 1923, codified in a treaty in 1928 (excluding matters of finance and military and foreign affairs, which remained in the hands of a British “resident”). In April 1928 a constitution was promulgated. Full independence was achieved after World War II by a treaty concluded in London on March 22, 1946, and on May 25 Abdullah proclaimed himself king. A new constitution was promulgated, and in 1949 the name of the state was changed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Throughout the interwar years Abdullah had been dependent on British financial support. He also was assisted by them in the formation of an elite force, the Arab Legion, which was commanded and trained by British officers but staffed with Bedouin troops, to maintain order and secure the allegiance of his Bedouin subjects.

On May 15, 1948, the day after the Jewish Agency proclaimed the independent state of Israel and immediately after the British withdrew from their Palestine mandate, Transjordan joined its Arab neighbors in the first Arab-Israeli war. The Arab Legion, commanded by Glubb Pasha (John [later Sir John] Bagot Glubb), as well as Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi troops entered Palestine. Abdullah’s primary purpose, which he had spelled out in secret discussions with Jewish envoys, was to extend his rule to include the area allotted to the Palestinian Arabs under the United Nations partition resolution of November 1947. Accordingly, he engaged his forces in the area of Palestine popularly known as the West Bank and expelled Jewish forces from East Jerusalem (the Old City).

When the Jordan-Israel armistice was signed on April 3, 1949, the West Bank and East Jerusalem–an area of about 2,100 square miles–came under Jordanian rule, and the half-million Transjordanians were joined by almost half a million more Palestinian Arabs. This territory was formally annexed by the kingdom in April 1950. Israel and Britain had tacitly agreed to Abdullah keeping the area, but the Arab countries and most of the world opposed the king’s action, and only Britain and Pakistan recognized the annexation.

PLO YaserThe incorporation of the West Bank, with 400,000 Palestinians, into Jordan, as well as a large refugee population that, on the whole, was hostile to the Hashemite regime, brought with them severe economic and political consequences. On the other hand, Abdullah did gain the Muslim shrines such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, which compensated for his father’s loss of Mecca and Medina at the hands of Ibn Sa’ud a generation earlier.

Abdullah was assassinated at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on July 20, 1951, by a young Palestinian frustrated by the king’s hostility to Palestinian nationalist aspirations. Abdullah’s son, Talal, who succeeded him, was declared unfit to rule by parliament because of mental illness after only one year (in August 1952). Talal abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Hussein ibn-Talal, who was crowned king on his 18th birthday, on May 2, 1953.

 

JORDAN
UNDER KING HUSSEIN
SECURING THE THRONE
1953-1960

King HusseinA country poor in resources, Jordan is surrounded by wealthier and more powerful states. More than 60 percent of its population are Palestinians, the majority of whom arrived as displaced persons following the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967 and the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Their presence has added to the economic and political problems of the kingdom.

Hashemite Royal CrestJordan has had to depend on outside economic assistance for most of its history. Before 1948 this came primarily from the United Kingdom. Following the Six-Day War with Israel in 1967 aid was provided by the United States and other Western countries (although suspended during the time of the Persian Gulf War), as well as by Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

The history of Jordan after 1953 was largely shaped by King Hussein’s policies to secure his throne and to retain or regain the West Bank for the Hashemite dynasty. Jordan’s relationship with Israel in the first decade of the Jewish state’s existence, although uneasy, was tolerable, though bloody raids and acts of terrorism carried out by each side added to the tension.

The kingdom’s involvement in the Palestinian question led as much to a contest with Egypt over Jordan’s future as it did to a struggle with Israel. In particular, it repeatedly forced Jordan to walk a tightrope between various Arab nations, the Palestinians, and the West and Israel.

Thus, popular demonstrations, especially in the West Bank, and pressure from Egypt prevented Hussein in 1955 from signing the pro-Western mutual defense treaty between Great Britain, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq known as the Baghdad Pact, which he had helped initiate. And in 1956 Hussein–bowing to popular pressure and in a show of support for Egyptian efforts at pan-Arab leadership–dismissed his British advisers, including Commander in Chief Glubb, and abrogated the Anglo-Jordanian treaty of 1946.

However, when members of the National Guard, drawn mainly from the West Bank, attempted a coup d’├ętat in April 1957, the king, supported by loyal East Bank Bedouins, acted decisively to curb domestic unrest; he purged the legislature of Palestinian nationalists and extremists, banned political parties, and set up a royal dictatorship.

imageAfter Egypt and Syria merged in February 1958, establishing the United Arab Republic (UAR; 1958-61), Hussein was persuaded by his cousin King Faysal II to join in a federal union with Iraq. In July 1958, however, Faysal and his family were killed in an army coup coordinated by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Hussein, realizing his regime was under threat, turned to Great Britain and the United States for assistance.

The USWashington agreed to provide additional military as well as economic aid. The British government, eager to see the pro-Western Hussein secure in Jordan, stationed British paratroops in the country between July and November 1958. This thwarted a further attempt by anti-Hashemite Palestinians supported by Nasser to overthrow the monarchy. By the early 1960s the United States was providing about $100 million per year, enabling economic development, and, despite a number of assassination attempts, the king’s future appeared secure.

THE PLO
AND THE
JUNE 1967 WAR

imageThe emergence in the late 1960s of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the militant group al-Fatah represented a potential threat to Jordan’s sovereignty on the West Bank as well as to Israel.

In early 1965 al-Fatah, supported by the radical Ba’ath Party government in Syria and encouraged by Egypt, began a series of raids against Israel, generally from Jordan, inflicting serious casualties and damage. Israel responded with raids into the West Bank in an effort to force Jordan to quash these military operations. Relations between Jordan and Syria and Egypt and between the Palestinians and Amman deteriorated.

Privately, Hussein had been seeking an understanding with Israel over an approach to the external and internal dangers facing the two countries. In late 1966 the Israeli army made a devastating raid into the West Bank village of as-Samu south of Hebron, destroying many of its houses. Hussein responded by attempting to stop the passage of Syrian-based Palestinian guerrillas through Jordan into Israel, eventually breaking off diplomatic ties with Syria (May 23, 1967).

However, as tension mounted between Israel and Egypt and Syria in the spring of 1967, Jordan reversed its position and on May 30 signed a defense pact with Egypt and Syria, placing Jordanian forces under Egyptian command.

Despite assurances from Israel that Jordan would not be attacked if it remained neutral, Israeli and Jordanian forces clashed in East Jerusalem, and King Hussein joined Egypt and Syria in the third Arab-Israel war in June 1967.

The June 1967 war was a watershed in the modern history of Jordan. Within 48 hours Israeli forces had overrun the entire territory west of the Jordan River, capturing Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, Ram Allah, Janin, and the city of Jerusalem. Jordan suffered heavy casualties and lost one-third of its most fertile land, and its already overburdened economy was faced with supporting some 200,000 new refugees. Hussein had regarded entering the war as the lesser of two evils; he believed that, if he had not joined Egypt and Syria, they would have supported the Palestinians in overthrowing his regime. The loss of the West Bank and Jerusalem, devastating as it was, was preferable to the loss of his kingdom.

 

FROM 1967 TO CIVIL WAR

Following the June war Hussein faced three major problems: how to recover from the economic losses caused by the war, how to live with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem, and how to preserve the Hashemite throne against a considerably augmented and increasingly hostile Palestinian population. The war reversed the progress made in Jordan’s economy prior to June 1967, even though Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya provided the kingdom with foreign aid. Yet within a short period both the United States and Great Britain resumed economic and military aid. In 1971 arrangements also were made with Israel enabling Jordanian cultivation in the Jordan Valley.

Despite the fact that an Arab summit meeting held in Khartoum in August 1967 passed the “three no’s” resolution–no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel–King Hussein resumed his secret negotiations with Israel over the disposition of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Relations with Israel were thus inseparably linked to the future of the Palestinians. Somewhat unrealistically, Hussein sought the return of all the territory lost to Jordanian rule, but, while willing privately to recognize Israel and to cooperate with it across a wide range of issues, he was not prepared to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. The two nations were thus no longer enemies and cooperated against PLO terrorism, but there was little progress toward a lasting peace.

Hussein’s relations with the PLO, which under the chairmanship of Yasser ‘Arafat openly challenged the king’s control in East Jordan, reached a crisis in September 1970. The radical Marxist Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), hijacked four international airliners and blew up three of them in Dawson’s Field, a deserted airstrip in the Jordanian desert. On September 16 the king declared martial law and called in loyal troops, and civil war (later remembered as Black September) erupted. When 250 Syrian tanks entered northern Jordan in support of the PLO, Hussein was forced not only to call upon military assistance from the United States and Great Britain but also to allow Israeli military over flights to attack the Syrian forces. The Syrian forces were defeated, and a peace agreement, in which Hussein made concessions to the PLO, was signed by King Hussein and ‘Arafat in Cairo on Sept. 27, 1970. By July 1971, however, Hussein had forced the PLO guerrillas out of Jordan.

FROM 1973 TO THE INTAFADA

The Old Assad SyriaKing Hussein chose not to join Egypt and Syria in their surprise attack on Israel in the war ofOctober 1973, although he did make a symbolic gesture by sending tanks to assist Syria in the Golan Heights.

Egypt Mubarek In negotiations immediately following the war, Hussein once again demanded the return of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Israel. He was bitter that Israel–in response to pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger–proposed a withdrawal of its forces from Israeli-occupied Egyptian territory but made no such overtures to Jordan, the neighbor that had stayed out of the war. Yet by August 1974 discussions were under way with Israel over “disengagement accords” that included the recognition of Jordan as speaking for the Palestinians, regional economic cooperation, and tactical cooperation, especially in relation to the threat posed by Palestinian guerrilla groups.

However, on Oct. 28, 1974, 20 leaders of the Arab League at an Arab summit meeting in Rabat, Mor., declared that the Palestinian people, under the leadership of the PLO (“their sole legitimate representative”), had the right to establish a national independent authority in liberated Palestine. On Nov. 4, 1974, Hussein announced that Jordan would exclude the West Bank from Jordan and that a federation between Jordan and a Palestinian state was “totally inconceivable,” as such a step would inevitably give the Palestinian population a majority and bring about the loss of his kingdom. Faced with American reluctance to supply arms and an Egyptian-Israeli Sinai accord, Jordan and Syria, in an effort to control PLO activities, agreed in August 1975 to a joint “supreme command” to coordinate their foreign and military policies. On March 9, 1977, Hussein met with ‘Arafat in Cairo, their first meeting since Black September 1970. In July 1977 Hussein, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter once again floated the idea of a link between Jordan and a Palestinian “entity,” but in August the idea was denounced by the PLO.

The election of the right-wing Likud bloc with Menachem Begin as Israeli prime minister in May 1977 brought relations between Jordan and Israel to a low ebb. Jordan was faced with Begin’s determination to annex and retain all of the West Bank, which Israel now called Judaea and Samaria. Begin greatly accelerated the program of constructing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Although Israel was committed to granting autonomy to the Palestinians and to negotiating the future status of the occupied territories under the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian agreement hammered out at Camp David in 1978, Hussein condemned the agreement. He completely broke off the 15-year secret negotiations with Israel. From late 1977 until 1984 Jordanian contacts with Israel came to a virtual halt. Hussein became increasingly alarmed at the rise in popularity in Israel of the view that Jordan was, in fact, the Palestinian state and that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would end only when the artificial entity–Jordan–officially became the Palestinian state. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 fueled fears in Amman that this was the first step in the process of transferring Palestinians to the East Bank.

In the early 1980s Hussein sought an accommodation with ‘Arafat and the PLO. The king realized that ‘Arafat, following his expulsion from Lebanon and the destruction of his bases, was almost entirely friendless and in need of his support. The two men reached a temporary if somewhat uneasy alliance. In order to strengthen his legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians, Hussein, in 1984, allowed the Palestine National Council (a virtual parliament of the Palestinians) to meet in Amman, and in February 1985 he signed the “Hussein-‘Arafat” agreement pledging cooperation with the PLO and coordination of a joint peace initiative. Hussein believed that ‘Arafat would accept a confederation of the West and East Banks with autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank under Jordanian sovereignty. ‘Arafat, however, although agreeable to an eventual confederation between a future Palestinian state and Jordan, had not given up hope of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. In January 1984 Hussein reconvened parliament for the first time since 1974, appointing seven new West Bank representatives and allowing by-elections to be held in March for eight East Bank vacancies in the 60-member House of Representatives. Women were included in the electorate for the first time.

In February 1986 Hussein, frustrated by ‘Arafat’s ambiguity regarding the PLO’s recognition of Israel and the renunciation of terrorism, which in turn confirmed Israeli intransigence, repudiated the Amman agreement with ‘Arafat and broke off negotiations with the PLO. Although the king was careful not to expel the PLO from Jordan entirely, despite an increase in guerrilla violence in the West Bank, he did order the closure of the PLO offices in Amman in March 1986.

In a complete turnaround in the Jordanian policy that had been followed since the Arab Rabat summit of 1974, he declared that he would now be responsible for the economic welfare of the West Bank Palestinians and that the West Bank would be included in the new five-year plan for Jordan to be announced in August. The king also approved an increase in the number of Palestinian seats (to about half) in an enlarged National Assembly. His goal was to create a Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli administration that would make the West Bank independent of the PLO and enable him to reach a settlement with Israel in which he would regain at least partial sovereignty of the area.

Shimonoseki PeresBy April 1987 Hussein and Shimon Peres, Israel’s foreign minister, agreed to a UN-sponsored conference involving all parties to the conflict to seek a comprehensive peace. The Palestinian representatives would be part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Although the proposal was endorsed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir wanted a conference with only Jordan and resisted American pressure for a comprehensive peace conference. King Hussein scored a diplomatic triumph with the staging of an Arab League summit meeting in Amman in November 1987.

King HusseinDuring this meeting Arab League members agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with Egypt. More importantly for the king, the Palestinian issue was not the main topic: the Iran-Iraq War, then in its eighth year, took precedence.

The situation changed dramatically in December 1987 with the outbreak of the intafada, a Palestinian uprising on the West Bank. King Hussein quickly realized that the uprising was directed against his rule as well as that of the Israelis. His immediate response was to support the intafada publicly and to offer aid to families of victims of Israeli reprisals in an effort to deflect hostility to his regime. But the intafada leaders (known as the Unified Command) renounced the king’s overtures. ‘Arafat quickly assumed the role of spokesman for the revolt. The intafada brought to a halt Jordanian and Israeli plans for an economic path to peace. Hussein canceled the five-year plan for the West Bank.

RENOUNCING CLAIMS
TO THE WEST BANK

AraftAn emergency meeting of the Arab League in June 1988 gave the PLO financial control of support for the Palestinians, thereby virtually acknowledging ‘Arafat as their spokesman. In response Hussein, on July 31, renounced all Jordanian claim to the West Bank, allowing the PLO to assume full responsibility. He dissolved the Jordanian parliament (half of whose members were West Bank representatives), ceased salary payments of 21,000 West Bank civil servants, and ordered that West Bank Palestinian passports be converted to two-year travel documents. When the Palestine National Council recognized the PLO as the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people and proclaimed the independence of a purely national Palestine on Nov. 15, 1988, Hussein immediately extended recognition to the Palestinian entity.

In November 1989 Jordan held its first parliamentary elections in 22 years. Opposition groups, particularly the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, gained more seats than the pro-government candidates, and the newly elected prime minister, Mudar Badran, promised to lift the martial law in place since 1967–a promise not fully kept until July 1991.

FROM THE PERSIAN GULF WAR
TO PEACE WITH ISRAEL

Saddam IraqIraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent 44-day Persian Gulf War in January-February 1991 forced Hussein to choose between two allies, the United States and Iraq. The king leaned heavily toward the “Arab Patriot” Saddam Hussein, who also received a zealous and vocal groundswell of support from the Jordanian people. In addition, trade with Iraq represented 40 percent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product.

Kuwait’s allies immediately cut off all aid to Jordan, imposed an air and sea blockade, and condemned King Hussein’s actions. To make matters worse, 200,000 to 300,000 refugees from Kuwait were expelled or fled (back) to Jordan.

President ClintonHowever, by the end of 1991 the United States and Israel were again seeking Hussein’s support for an American-Israeli peace initiative. It was later unintentionally released that Hussein had been acting as a double agent for the United States during the war.

This led Saddam to place a bounty on the head of the king. However, he once again took up the challenge and became and agent for peace in the region. A peace that his kingdom needs as desperately as the Israelis.

The first multiparty general election since 1956 was scheduled for November 1993. In August the king dissolved the 80-member House of Representatives (the lower house of the bicameral National Assembly) and announced that the election would be conducted on a one-person-one-vote system rather than on the old “slate” system that allowed voters to cast as many votes as there were representatives in their constituency.

In the election the number of anti-Zionist Islamic militants–who made up the Islamic Action Front (IAF), a coalition of Islamic groupings and the largest of the 20 political parties–was reduced from 36 to 16, giving the king the support he had sought for his policy.

Hussein, Clinton, ArafatKing Hussein expressed public reservations over a PLO-Israeli accord, the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in the occupied territories signed on Sept. 13, 1993, but he stated his willingness to support the Palestinian people. He was concerned over issues relating to Jordan’s economic links with the West Bank and the future status of Palestinians in Jordan. About one year later, on Oct. 26, 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a full peace treaty, in which King Hussein was recognized as the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem.

The players are still the same. King Abdullah II has taken his father’s place, and Abbas is now the PLO leader. The President of the US is Obama, and Assad is now in charge. Though the faces have changed the players are still the same. The Islamic State will help set the rest of the world stage towards the peace agreement. Keep watching.

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