Will Jordan Become a Palestinian State?

By S.H. Rolef

Numerous commentators on the recent Arab uprisings have noted that none of the regimes that collapsed has been a monarchy or emirate. This is not because Arab states ruled by kings and emirs are more democratic than the others, but because they do not pretend to be democratic, so their legitimacy is less questioned than that of the socalled "revolutionaries" turned dictators who are currently being ousted.

Furthermore, most of the kings/emirs are rich enough to buy quiet - at least for the time being.

Jordan is not one of the wealthy kingdoms, but its Hashemite rulers, though absolute, have been much more congenial than the others. Though King Abdullah II has some concern that the uprisings might reach his kingdom, for the time being his throne seems safe, though I wouldn't bet on his son, or one of his brothers, ever succeeding him.

The Hashemites are a family that originally came from the Arabian Peninsula, which was taken over by the Wahhabi Ibn Saud during the second decade of the 20th century.

Following World War I, two members of the family - Faisal and Abdullah - were appointed by the British to rule Iraq and Transjordan, respectively.

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Transjordan, it might be recalled, was part of the Palestine Mandate granted to Great Britain by the League of Nations in 1922.

Though a Palestinian state had never existed, and the history of the name "Palestine" is somewhat complicated, the indigenous, non-nomadic population of the area came to be known as Palestinians. The British policy was to set up the Jewish national home only in areas west of the Jordan River, which explains why there was no Jewish immigration to Transjordan.

The modern kingdom of Jordan might thus be considered a state established in the former Mandate whose rulers - supported by indigenous Beduin tribes that never considered themselves Palestinian - originated in the Arabian Peninsula, but the majority of whose population has always been Palestinian.

THIS FACT has not gone unnoticed among Israel's leaders. In the plan for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict advocated by Yigal Allon from just after the Six Day War until his death on February 29, 1980, (31 years ago this week), most of the West Bank was to have been returned to King Hussein, from whom it was conquered by Israeli forces in June 1967.

Allon, who like most Israeli leaders liked the Hashemites and regarded them as an asset to national security, argued that since the majority of the population in Jordan is Palestinian, there was no reason to establish another Palestinian state.

"Every people deserves its own state," he argued, "but why should a single people have two states?" The problem with this reasoning is that while the Palestinians know full well that a majority of Jordan's citizens are Palestinian, they never considered its regime to be Palestinian, and while many of them are not really satisfied with their status in Jordan, except for the armed confrontation between the regime and the PLO in 1970/71 (which ended with the PLO being ousted to Lebanon), the Palestinians have never really constituted an existential threat to the Hashemites.

Allon spoke of Jordan plus parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip turning into Palestine. Other leaders, including Ariel Sharon in 1970, claimed "Jordan is Palestine," and the Palestinians should thus establish their state east of the Jordan River.

While there is no chance that the Palestinians will ever accept the argument that Jordan (and Jordan alone) is Palestine, Allon's concept of a single Palestinian state including Jordan, most of the West Bank and possibly also the Gaza Strip might yet catch on. The initiative will, of course, never come from the Hashemites. However, should there ever be a successful popular uprising against the Hashemites, those instigating it will certainly be Palestinians, so the idea of an extensive Palestinian state might then have more appeal.

In terms of a solution to the conflict, such a development would certainly make the problems involved much simpler. Though the Hashemite rulers have always been and will remain preferable in Israeli eyes to any potential Palestinian regime, in the final reckoning it is not Israel that will determine who will rule Jordan, and a successful Palestinian upheaval cannot be ruled out.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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