Jordan refuses to let in the more than 1,000 Palestinians stranded along the Syria-Jordan border, even though it has allowed 100,000 Syrian refugees to enter. There are at present an estimated 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, and clearly the last thing the rulers of Jordan want is for them to come streaming into Jordan.
The rulers of Jordan believe they have a demographic problem, and Palestinians are not wanted in Jordan. Jordanian spokesmen insist over and over again that Jordan is not a Palestinian state, and the assertion heard now and then that Jordan is Palestine is considered subversive propaganda in Amman.
How things have changed since the time that Jordan’s King Abdullah sent his British-officered and -equipped Arab Legion into western Palestine in 1948 and, at the conclusion of hostilities, annexed the areas of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria that had come under his control during the fighting; awarded Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinian population there; and turning the Palestinians into a majority of Jordan’s population. As far as the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization was concerned, Jordan was most definitely Palestine, as seen when the PLO tried to take over Jordan during Black September, in 1970. The Jordanian army routed the Palestinian forces, leaving King Hussein in control.
The vagaries of Middle East borders and national identities come to mind when we recall the birth, more than 90 years ago, of what is today the kingdom of Jordan. In 1921, Winston Churchill, the newly appointed British colonial secretary, hurried from London to Jerusalem and offered Emir Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the territory of Palestine east of the Jordan River. That was three-quarters of the area that had been intended to serve as the national home of the Jewish people, but Churchill assured Emir Abdullah that, contrary to the League of Nations mandate on the matter, these territories would be closed to Jewish immigration and settlement.
This gratuitous offer was followed in 1922 by the Churchill White Paper, which declared that “unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such as that Palestine is to become ‘as Jewish as England is English.’ His Majesty’s Government regard any such expectations as impracticable and have no such aim in view.” It signaled the beginning of Britain’s retreat from the commitments it had undertaken in the Balfour Declaration and its obligations under the League of Nations mandate.
What began as the Emirate of Transjordan developed over the years, under British tutelage, into the Kingdom of Transjordan, which during 1948 extended its control to the Old City of Jerusalem and areas west of the Jordan river. Transjordan renamed itself in 1949 as the Kingdom of Jordan, and a “Jordanian” nation was born.
During the first intifada, Jordan’s King Hussein, fearing that the intifada might spill over into Jordan, decided to cut Jordan’s legal and administrative ties to eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and distance himself from the Palestinian population living there. In 2009 he began a process of revoking Jordanian citizenship from Palestinians. He is trying to bring his demographic problem under control.
But there is no changing the fact that Palestinians constitute a majority of the population in Jordan; the rest of the population consists of Bedouin tribes. If one were to apply the definition used by the advocates of the Palestinian cause in Israel, who maintain that the Bedouin in Israel are also Palestinians, then all of Jordan’s population can be counted as Palestinians.
If Jordan is not a Palestinian state, then what is? The proponents of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are actually calling for the establishment of a second Palestinian state. There is no law of nature that would preclude the existence of two Palestinian states, one east of the Jordan and another one west of the Jordan. Not so long ago there were two Germanys, and nowadays there are North Korea and South Korea. But it is just those analogies that call into question the permanence, and even the validity, of such an arrangement.
The Israeli defense establishment is firmly opposed to a “Jordan is Palestine” solution, and for good reason. The Jordanian army and security services are efficient. On guard against subversive elements in Jordan that would turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, they also cooperate with Israel’s security services in the fight against terrorism and help keep the Jordanian-Israeli border peaceful. There is no reason for Israel to welcome a Palestinian takeover of Jordan.
But Jordan’s King Abdullah may be fighting a losing battle. Here is one demographic wave that may not be reversible.