The world has been surprised recently by Jordan's King Hussein severing his and his country's involvement with the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") and by thus exacerbating the political vacuum in the area. In the "washing his hands" of the problems of this area and its inhabitants, the king made the statement, "Jordan is not Palestine!"
What are the facts?
What does King Hussein mean by this statement? In order to understand King Hussein's statement, a review of Jordan's history is in order. It is a short one. The country is an artificial creation of the British. Before World War I, the area now known as the "Middle East" was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. The French and British defeated the Turks, drove them out of the area, and split it between themselves. The French took what are now Syria and Lebanon as their "sphere of influence;" the British took Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. Two tribal Arabian chieftains were allied with Britain against the Turks and needed to be rewarded: Ibn Saud of the Saudi tribes, and Abdullah and Feisal of the Hashemites. The Saudis got the Arabian peninsula and made it into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites had to be transplanted for their reward. Feisal was given the throne of Iraq -- an established though disarrayed country. But nothing was left for his cousin Abdullah who had also been promised a kingdom. What to do?
In 1917, Britain had issued the Balfour Declaration, a statement expressing Britain's promise for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate over Palestine, specifically including the requirements of the Balfour Declaration for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Since Biblical times, under the Ottomans and under the British mandate, the country now called "Palestine" always included the area now occupied by Israel (including the "West Bank"), Gaza and Jordan. In order to satisfy the branch of the Hashemites that was left without a kingdom, the British drew a few lines on the map and granted the entire area east of the Jordan River -- close to 80% of mandated Palestine -- as a kingdom to Abdullah. The Jewish homeland, promised in the Balfour Declaration by the same British, was reduced to a mere one-fifth of its original size. Transjordan (as the new country was called), an artificial state with an alien ruling dynasty, attained its independence from Britain in 1946.
In 1947, the British having relinquished the Palestine mandate, the U.N. proposed a plan under which the just over 20% remnant of Palestine was to be further divided between the Arabs living in the area and the Jews. Such was the desire of the Jews to get their homeland, and so great the need to gather what was left of European Jewry after the Holocaust, that they accepted this further partition. The Arabs flatly refused. When Israel declared its independence in 1948, five Arab armies invaded it on the very day of its birth. Transjordan's army, led by British officers, was among them. The Israelis defeated all five armies. Egypt managed to hang on to Gaza, and Transjordan to the "West Bank" and the eastern sector of Jerusalem. Transjordan promptly renamed itself Jordan, proceeded to annex the area and to keep it an integral part of its kingdom. All inhabitants became Jordanian subjects.
Hussein's fatal mistake. In 1967, Hussein made the fatal mistake of his kingly career by allowing himself to be seduced into joining the Six Day War. All Arab armies were devastated. Israel regained the "West Bank." Pending final disposition of the area, Israel has administered it ever since. The inhabitants retained Jordanian citizenship. Israel allowed Jordan to stay in control of the judicial and religious systems, of the schools, and of the local administrative networks.
The Jordanians, of course, are the real Palestinian Arabs. Over 70% of the 2.8 million population of the kingdom are Palestinian Arabs. The Arabs of Jordan are exactly the same people as the Arabs living in the "West Bank" -- as alike as Americans from Iowa and from Wisconsin. There is no difference between them in language, ethnicity or social customs. Before the Six Day war, the concept of a second Palestinian state located in the "West Bank" had never occurred to anybody. Because the Palestinians, whose national identity is acknowledged by the Israelis, do have a country. It's Jordan. Over 2 million Palestinians live in Jordan, and only 800,000 in the territories administered by Israel. Do they need another country? Of course not! The Hungarians living in Rumania don't have another country; neither do the Turks living in Bulgaria, nor do the Swedes living in Finland. Then why should the Jordanians/Palestinians living in the territories administered by Israel have another country, since they have a country of their own right next door? It makes no difference what King Hussein says. Jordan is and always has been Palestine. His saying "it ain't so" does not change that at all.
One wonders why King Hussein would abdicate his "rights" to the area west of the Jordan River, and why he is apparently cutting its 800,000 inhabitants loose and leaving the field open to Israel and the PLO. The King is a clever man and a survivor. He has come to realize that he already has 2 million Palestinians in Jordan. They owe him little loyalty and are in almost constant rebellion. Only recently, thousands of them have been arrested in riots and public disorders and scores have been killed. (In contrast to what happens in Israel, media are not allowed to cover these events.) It's clear now to King Hussein that if 800,000 Arab Palestinians from the "West Bank" were to form an independent PLO state, they would seek union with their brethren in Jordan. But that union would not be under King Hussein it would be under the PLO. And that would be the end of King Hussein and of the Hashemite dynasty. Whatever statement King Hussein wishes to make: It is clear historically, socially, and by common sense that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan.
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Gerardo Joffe, President