If King Hussein of Jordan's July 1988 declaration that "there should be the separation of the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" is long-lasting, it presents all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict with opportunities and dangers. The Palestine Liberation Organization must make the most of its opportunity or fall by the way. Syrians and other Arabs must revamp their strategies. So too, Israelis and American seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip must engage in some major rethinking; they cannot keep pretending that nothing has changed.
And what about those who want Israel to remain in the territories? Their opportunity is clear, for with Jordan out of the picture, they can convincingly argue that there is no Arab interlocutor with whom to discuss peace, and therefore no realistic alternative to a Greater Israel. They claim that Hussein's exit proves what they have been saying all along: that the West Bank is not part of Jordan, but part of Israel
It is more important than ever to pay close attention to such views. The Likud Bloc has either led or been a part of the Israeli government since 1977, and the evidence suggests that its position will grow stronger over the next eleven years. The demographic threat and the Arab uprising have shifted Israeli opinion to the right; more than ever, the "transference" of the Arab population from the territories has become intellectually respectable. The November 1988 elections may well give Likud greater strength than ever before, so the next Israeli government might have the will and the way to establish wholly new policies toward Palestinian Arabs and Jordan.
At the same time, Likud sympathizers have suffered a minor irritation, for King Hussein rejected the "Jordan is Palestine" slogan which underlies so much of their policy. The king put it as plainly as he could on the evening of July 31, 1988: "Jordan is not Palestine."
Those four words carry the baggage of a long and complex history that continues to weigh on events. It matters greatly if the next government of Israel thinks that Jordan is Palestine, and if the king of Jordan disagrees. The future balance between Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians depends in good part on which of them is correct.
A substantial body of opinion has developed in Israel and elsewhere which favors the snappy argument that Jordan is Palestine. Although closely associated with Ariel Sharon, the enfant terrible of Israeli politics, the approach has long been the policy of the Likud party itself. In the 1920s, Vladimir Jabotinsky asserted that Palestine is a territory whose "chief geographical feature" is that "the Jordan River does not delineate its frontiers but flows through its center." In 1982, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir wrote that, "reduced to its true proportions, the problem is clearly not the lack of a homeland for the Palestinian Arabs. That homeland is Trans-Jordan, or Eastern Palestine. ... A second Palestinian state to the west of the River is a prescription for anarchy." A clandestine agreement in 1987 between the Likud party and Faysal al-Husseini, the Palestinian activist, reportedly recognized Palestinian sovereignty east of the Jordan River.
These ideas took more specific form in July 1989, when Shamir raised the possibility of a Palestinian state being established in Jordan in the course of his discussions with Arab residents of the West Bank. According to a report from Palestinian circles, reserve Brigadier General Yo'el Ben-Porat devised the intellectual framework for Shamir's efforts. Key provisions included:
- The land of Israel east of the Jordan River shall be the Palestinian state.
- In the first stage, the Palestinian state shall be established east of the Jordan River. This state shall enjoy all the characteristics of sovereignty.
- In the second stage (after the establishment of the Palestinian state east of the Jordan River) those areas of the land of Israel in the West Bank under Israel's control and areas inside the green line [delimiting pre-1967 Israel] inhabited by Palestinians shall become part of the Palestinian state.
- The West Bank and Gaza shall not be handed over to or placed under the sovereignty of the Palestinian state except after peace with this state prevails and is manifested in mutual economic, tourist, and cultural relations, and through cooperation in establishing economic and water projects, in addition to allowing free movement of people and goods.
Shamir's broaching of this subject raised tensions among Arabs, as King Hussein scurried to make sure that Yasir 'Arafat and the Iraqi leadership did not plan to go along with the Israelis.
Nor is this just the view of politicians; Mordechai Nisan, a scholar, explains that "nobody ever considered the two sides of the Jordan River anything but integral parts of a single land called Palestine." Many American supporters of Israel accept the Jordan-is-Palestine argument. Joan Peters premises her study, From Time Immemorial, on this notion. She routinely calls Israel a "corner of Palestine" and "Western Palestine," while "Eastern Palestine" is her term for Jordan. George F. Will states that "Jordan is Palestine - historically, geographically, ethnically." Two small but active organizations, the Jordan Is Palestine Committee of Hyde Park, New York, and the Washington-based CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) make this argument with advertisements prominently placed in the national U.S. media.
Spelled out in more detail, the Jordan-is-Palestine slogan holds that Palestine includes the territory on the far side of the Jordan River and therefore Jordan is the Palestinian state - even if it lacks a Palestinian ruler. Instead of two peoples fighting for one land, the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs are portrayed as controlling different territories - Jews in the western portion of Palestine, now called Israel, and Arabs in the eastern part of Palestine, now called Jordan.
The purpose of this change in nomenclature is to undercut any Arab claim to sovereignty over territory Israel now holds. It also makes the Palestinians look greedy; they already have a whole loaf and they want another. It implies that while Palestinians should leave Israel alone, they should feel free to make changes in the Hashemite Kingdom. It also suggests that, because Israel has at least as valid a claim to the east bank as the Palestinians do to the west, the granting of the eastern part of Palestine to Arabs represents a form of Zionist generosity. Finally, it implies that the Israelis may be justified in expelling Arabs to Jordan, their true Palestinian patrimony. In this way, the kindred notions of Jordan-is-Palestine and Greater Israel join the demographic and political issues facing Israel today to create the political agenda of the Israeli right.
This approach to Israel's security predicament has obvious appeal to many Israelis and to those around the world sympathetic to Israel's plight. How convenient if Palestinians already have a state; they can turn away from decades of failure against the Zionists and begin to build something productive. Israelis would have one enemy fewer; their growing anxiety over questions raised by Israel's Arab residents would be eased by a transfer of populations within Palestine.
The Jordan-is-Palestine argument rests on four main premises: that Palestine historically included Jordan; that the British-governed Mandate of Palestine included the entire territory of today's Israel and Jordan; that the two regions are geographically indistinguishable; and that Palestinian and Jordanian leaders themselves believe Jordan and Palestine identical. The trouble is, neither the historical record nor the map unambiguously supports any of these propositions. Rather, they are based on a selective knowledge of history and geography, a narrow and eccentric reading of the British Mandate, and a distortion of inter-Arab political dynamics.
Specious arguments tend to have mischievous effects and the Jordan-is-Palestine tactic is no exception. In the end, it is likely to advance the cause of a Palestinian state on the West Bank as well as the East, and will rebound dangerously against both Israeli and American interests.
I. The East Bank Always a Part of Palestine
First, Jordan-is-Palestine advocates argue that the east bank has always been considered part of Palestine. But a close look at the territory that is today Jordan shows that sometimes it was seen as part of Palestine, at other times not. Further, "Palestine" was for centuries a concept, not a fixed cartographic entity, so its political meaning was even more ambiguous than its borders.
Jewish history contains many boundaries for the land of Israel. The first boundaries - promised, but not realized - were those of the Patriarchs, and they established the Jordan River as a frontier. Later books of the Bible (Deuteronomy, Joshua) describe a border extending to the eastern side and Saul's kingdom of the eleventh century B.C.E. included the non-desert parts of today's Jordan. So did King David's domains. In contrast, territory under Jewish control in the twelfth century B.C.E. ended at the river, as it did during much of the Second Commonwealth.
Whatever the situation on the ground, Jewish tradition clearly distinguished between areas of historical Jewish habitation and the land of the Covenant as defined in the Bible. Only the latter, more circumscribed, area is "the land of milk and honey," the subject of God's promise to Israel. The Torah (Numbers 34:1-12) makes it clear in its most exact specification of the boundaries of the land of the Covenant that the Jordan River is the eastern limit of Eretz Yisrael: "And the border shall go down and strike against the slope of the Sea of Kineret eastward; and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea." This explains why Moses' death on Mount Nevo, in today's Jordan, was viewed as a punishment. It is also revealing that God imposed conditions on the two tribes (Reuben and Gad) that inherited land on the eastern side of the river.Each of these points implies a lesser status for the eastern side of the Jordan.
Outside the Jewish tradition, there is a broader political history to consider. Palestine was administered in a myriad of divisions under the Babylonians, Persians, Ptolomies, Seleucids and Romans, sometimes combining east and west sides, sometimes not. To take Roman times as an example, the Jordan River initially formed a boundary; after 66 C.E. it did not. Conversely, the first Jewish revolt extended beyond the Jordan, the second ended at the river.
The Romans introduced the word Palestine as a way to expunge the name Judea from the map - a punishment for the Bar Kochba rebellion suppressed in 135 C.E. Naming the region after the Philistine residents of the coast, they called it Palaestina. But a new name did not slow down the constant redistricting. In 284 the southern part of the Roman province of Arabia was added to Palaestina; in 358 territory east and south of the Dead Sea were separated and called Palaestina Salutaris. Shortly thereafter, Palaestina Primera (capital: Caeserea) and Palaestina Secunda (capital: Scythopolis, the modern Beit Shean) came into being. Palaestina Salutaris was renamed Palaestina Tertia (capital: Petra). The Jordan River did not divide these regions.
When the Arabs conquered the area in 634, they inherited and kept the Roman divisions for over three centuries, so their provinces too straddled the river.During the Crusades, the Jordan River did for the most part divide Palestine from Muslim territory. In Mamluk times (1250-1516), the land's administrative boundaries changed again, with the river serving as a boundary in the north, but not in the south.The Ottomans (1516-1918) initially left the Mamluk divisions in place, but then made a series of changes that increased the role of the river as a boundary.
Not only did the border to-and-fro during Roman and Muslim rule, but Palestine never constituted a single political unit between the fall of the Second Jewish Commonwealth in 68 C.E. and 1917 - with the one exception of the Crusades. Therefore, it is nonsense to speak of "historic" Palestine as if it were a single long-standing polity. Palestine lived in the hearts of those who loved it, and that was in a realm without boundaries. In medieval Europe, for example, "Palestine" referred to that area occupied by the Hebrews before the Diaspora, but since this area had changed size many times, the definition implied no precise boundaries on a map.
In modern times too, pious Christians and Jews continued to see Palestine in light of Biblical text and history, and paid little attention to actual divisions on the ground. They drew their maps to show Palestine as it had been assigned to the Tribes of Israel. The library is full of travelogues with titles like Heth and Moab or The Land of Gilead. Naturally, Palestine for them meant both sides of the Jordan, but especially the Promised Land. In this spirit, the Palestine Exploration Fund sponsored The Survey of Western Palestine.
Not surprisingly, early Zionists and their Christian supporters assumed that parts of the east bank would be incorporated into Jewish Palestine. This helps explain why Jewish soldiers fought on the east bank to wrest it from the Ottoman Turks. Or why, in 1919, the Zionists proposed to the Versailles Peace Conference that their future state's frontier extend deep into the east bank. Or the resolution of the thirteenth Zionist Congress, in August 1923: "Recognizing that eastern and western Palestine are in reality and de facto one unit historically, geographically, and economically, the Congress expresses its expectation that the future of Transjordan shall be determined in accordance with the legitimate demands of the Jewish people." Or why the Jewish National Fund owned land on the east bank until the late 1940s.
Notwithstanding these claims, the historical record shows that Palestine did not always include the east bank, and that the Jordan River has often served as a military and political division. The history of the area, ancient, medieval, and modern, does not entitle one to assert, as do advocates of Jordan-is-Palestine, that "the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was understood as British recognition of a Jewish National Homeland in all of historic Palestine" - meaning today's Jordan and Israel. The territory promised by the Balfour Declaration can justifiably be interpreted as ending at the Jordan River or as extending further.
II. Eight Months of the British Mandate
The second premise of the Jordan-is-Palestine argument refers to the fact that for eight months in 1920-21, the British government placed Jordan's territory under the titular jurisdiction of the Palestine Mandate.
Along with the rest of the Middle East, the modern political history of Palestine and Jordan began with the First World War. At the center of this transformation was the British effort to build alliances for its war effort against Germany. London gave vaguely-defined promises of Ottoman territory in the Levant to three different parties. In the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, ten letters exchanged between July 1915 and March 1916, it promised portions of geographic Syria to the Ottoman governor of Mecca, the Sharif al-Hussein ibn 'Ali, but exact boundaries were not specified. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916 divided the same area (and more) between Britain and France. The Balfour Declaration of November 1917 endorsed "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
Britain's three alliances served its wartime purposes fairly well; in a two-year campaign that ended in October 1918, British forces took control of the area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran. But after the war, the apparent mutual exclusivity of these agreements caused considerable trouble. In an initial effort to balance commitments to Arabs, Frenchmen, and Zionists, the British divided the Levant into three military administrations in October 1918. London administered a zone roughly equivalent to what later became Israel and opened Jewish immigration to it. The French assumed control of the coastal region between Israel and Turkey. The sharif's son, Prince Faysal, received what became known as Transjordan, as well as everything away from the Mediterranean in today's Lebanon and Syria. Damascus served as his capital.
In accord with the Sykes-Picot agreement, however, the French government aspired to control Damascus and the interior, so it expelled Faysal from Damascus in July 1920. But the French did not claim the southern part of Faysal's territory, which now fell under British jurisdiction.
Here we arrive at a critical point for Jordan-is-Palestiners: the British now for the first time called their whole territory in the Levant the "Mandate for Palestine." In other words, starting in July 1920, Jordan formed part of Palestine, as least as far as the British were concerned.
But it did not remain so for long. In March 1921 Winston Churchill, the colonial secretary, found it "necessary immediately to occupy militarily Trans-Jordania." Rather than use British troops to do this, he decided to control it indirectly. Toward this end, Churchill divided the Palestine Mandate into two parts along the Jordan River, creating the Emirate of Transjordan on the east bank and excluding Jewish immigration there. Churchill offered this territory to Faysal's older brother, Abdullah, who after some hesitation accepted. The Hashemite dynasty of Abdullah, his son Tallal, and his grandson Hussein have ruled Transjordan (or Jordan, as it was renamed in 1949) ever since. After March 1921, the east bank was no longer Palestine.
The sum of this complex tale is that Jordan was part of the Palestine Mandate for a mere eight months, from July 1920 to March 1921. Even that is vitiated by two facts: the League of Nations formally bestowed the mandatory responsibility on Great Britain only in July 1922, making the eight month period legally irrelevant; and the British disposed of almost no authority in Transjordan during those months when they theoretically held it as part of Palestine. In fact, the east bank lacked any ruler; Paris stayed away, London did not seek direct control, and the Hashemites had other priorities. "At that moment," reported Herbert Samuel, the British High Commissioner of Palestine, "Trans-Jordan was left politically derelict."
A few months of rule that was neither de facto nor de jure is hardly reason, seventy years later, to call Jordan a part of Palestine. Besides, it is preposterous to base today's major decisions of war and peace on the transient interests of the British Empire after World War I. That Jordan was briefly part of the Palestine Mandate does not establish a vital link; it merely recalls a historical curiosity. As L. Dean Brown observes, "Jordan is Palestine only in the sense that Nebraska, which was part of the Louisiana Purchase, is still Louisiana."
III. The Jordan River Runs Deep and Wide
The third premise holds that Jordan and Palestine constitute just one region because the division between them is geographically meaningless and Arab residents of the two banks share much in common. After all, what is the Jordan River but a over-blown stream? To many observers, the idea that it ever formed a border seems silly.
Not much left: The Jordan River in 2012.
But the Jordan River historically divided the two banks much as would a major river; as Henry Van Dyke wrote in 1908, the Jordan "is a flowing, everlasting symbol of division, of separation." Further, the river is part of a much larger geographic feature - the Rift Valley - which thoroughly impedes intercourse between the two sides. Accordingly, west and east banks have long been separate; Jordanians are not Palestinians, nor the reverse.
Diminutive as the Jordan River appears today, it was not always so. The flow of water has been much reduced due to heavy use in recent decades; in times past it was normally some 90 to 100 feet wide and 3 to 10 feet deep. Seasonal rains used to make the river at times nearly impassable due to the velocity of the current. This is not surprising given that, with the one exception of the Sacramento River in California, the Jordan has the most precipitous drop of any river on earth - about nine feet down for every mile traversed.
Lt. William F. Lynch, commander of the 1847 expedition to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.
We had to clear out old channels, to make new ones, and sometimes, placing our sole trust in Providence, plunged with headlong velocity down appalling descents. So great were the difficulties, that on the second evening we were in a direct line but twelve miles distant from Tiberias. On the third morning I was obliged to abandon the frame boat from her shattered condition. No other kind of boats in the world than such as we have, combining great strength with buoyancy, could have sustained the shocks they encountered. As the passage by the river was considered the most perilous, alike from the dangers of its channel and the liability to an attack, I felt it my duty, as I have before advised you, to undertake it in person.
Soon after, H.B. Tristam found the river "muddy, swollen, and turbid," an "impetuous torrent." Van Dyke called the Jordan "not a little river to be loved; it is a barrier to be passed over." For him, the river "offers nothing to man but danger, difficulty, and trouble. Fierce and sullen and intractable... there are no pleasant places along its course.... It is in a hurry and a secret rage." Nelson Glueck, author of The River Jordan, wrote that "it tumbles and cascades almost continuously through a forbidding, black basalt gorge. Foaming and muddy, it bursts out of the ravine."
The river's "treacherous zigzag current" had the additional effect of rapidly eroding the banks. To make matters yet worse, the river often switched courses. Putting up either buildings or bridges along the shores was clearly an impractical idea. This meant, Frank G. Carpenter observed in 1923, that the Jordan "has no wharves, no boats, and no cities or villages of any account. It has numerous fords but no bridges of any size." When Alexander W. Kinglake crossed the Jordan in 1834-35, he went one way on the Jordan's only bridge (a survival from Roman antiquity) and returned on animal skins. John L. Stoddard noted that considerable numbers of pilgrims drown every year in the river's "impetuous" current.
The meandering Jordan River, as it used to be.
The valley containing the river, especially its eastern side, was a wild, difficult place where plant, animal, and human life all impeded travel. Tristam found the banks to be "a belt of impenetrable jungle and trees" which "shut in the river on both sides." John Franklin Swift painted a vivid scene from his 1867 trip: "The borders of the river below the banks are filled to the water's edge with a dense thicket of cane, mixed with oleanders and willows, so that at no place... can it be approached except by pushing through this almost impassable undergrowth. And here wild boars are said to abound in dangerous numbers." After a flooding, the area around the river became "a deep slimy ooze" which completely stopped travelers.
And then there were the savage animals. Jeremiah 49:19 alluded to their ferocity when he compared God to a "lion from the thickets of the Jordan." Other animals found by the river included hyenas, jackals, lynx, porcupine, water buffaloes, boars, and "truculent" insects. Further from the river banks, the territory is either badlands or what Lynch called "a perfect desert, traversed by warlike tribes." Children born in the spring or summer routinely died in infancy of malaria.
To make matters worse, the river is but one element of a much larger obstacle, the Rift Valley, a unique geographic phenomenon stretching from Turkey to Mozambique. In Palestine it includes, quite beyond the river and its thickets, the very lowest spot on the face of earth; extremely hot and dry temperatures; steep, forbidding inclines; and few passes - all of which makes for a major natural boundary between west and east bank. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, "the Rift Valley was throughout history one of the main factors for the division of the region into two parts, very infrequently - and then only partially - united into a single state." As G. Robinson Lees explained, "The Jordan valley divides the Holy Land into two parts: one containing the sacred associations of our Lord's life on earth ... the other, beyond [the] Jordan ... exhibiting features that differ from the west as completely as its history." Glueck noted that the Jordan rift and its southward continuation served
as a barrier and a boundary between the high countries east and west of it. ... Most of the inhabitants of the valley never stirred out of it. Neither did their neighbors from the heights above have much occasion to see, or interest in knowing the Jordan Valley, let alone the Jungle of the Jordan, whose terrors had probably been magnified in their hearing. ... The connection between the parts of Israel separated by the Jordan Valley became fragile.
Difficulties of crossing the river and rift spurred north-south patterns of commerce and travel on each of the east and west sides. Border or not, the valley has always presented a formidable military boundary and possession of the few places where the river could be forded on foot was a source of strategic strength. The small population on the eastern side also restricted exchanges between the two banks of the river. The east bank was never developed agriculturally as was the land on the west bank, in part because of inferior soil and lesser rainfall above the valley; in part because the valley was mostly a malarial swamp.
The river quite precisely delineated desert from sown, agricultural lands from pasturage. Already in Biblical times, the east side was a hinterland where the pursued could flee and disappear, as David did after Absalom's revolt. A paucity of contacts between the two banks caused abiding differences in identity. Two American travelers at the beginning of this century, William Libbey and Franklin E. Hoskins, went so far as to observe that the river made residents of the east and west banks "strangers, or enemies, to each other."
Kinglake noted that the Jordan "is a boundary between the people living under roofs and the tented tribes that wander on the further side." Lynch commented on "the ruined villages, whence the peaceful fellahin [peasants] had been driven by the predatory robber." Tristam saw just one inhabited village along the eastern bank of the Jordan and commented that "no government is now acknowledged on the east side."
Over the next 150 years, the two banks increasingly developed along separate lines, with the western region benefiting from centralized rule, a much more advanced economy, and a cosmopolitan urban culture. The river and rift thus became a psychological divide, cutting insignificant Transjordan from world-important Palestine.
At the time of its delineation in 1921, Transjordan lacked water, wealth, and people. It had but one remote and undeveloped port, a thin strip of fertile land, and a population of under 250,000, nearly half of whom were nomadic. Roads were severely lacking. Tristam found that "the whole cartography of trans-Jordanic Palestine is mere guess-work, and misleads instead of directing the traveller." No wonder that crossing the Jordan back to the west bank made his party feel it "had re-entered upon civilisation. It seemed a step homewards, such as we had not taken since we left England." Matters had not improved much nearly a century later, as Ladislas Farago explained in 1936: "Now on the Palestinian side of the Allenby Bridge everything seemed to be orderly, but hardly had we gone three hundred yards on the other side of the bridge when modern Palestine suddenly ceased and - bump, bump - we were driving on a primitive road of nature.... Now I understood why Sir Arthur Wauchope [the high commissioner of Palestine] always flies to Amman."
More important, Transjordan contained no great cities or historic seats of power. Laurence Oliphant wrote in 1881 that Ajlun "was the largest center of population and best-built village we had seen to the east of the Jordan, though that is giving it scant praise, for the population did not probably exceed five hundred." In 1924, Mrs. Steuart Erskine still deemed 'Abdallah's capital city, Amman, a "straggling village," and by all accounts it was a dirty and squalid town.
The lack of cities meant no high civilization. Transjordan lacked mosques of significance and important Islamic associations; printing presses, libraries, and institutions of higher learning were absent, as were medical facilities. The country lacked its own postage stamps until 1927 - but that hardly mattered because there were no postal services to speak of. Trade and industry were absent. A historian, Suleiman Mousa, estimates a literacy rate of about 1 percent at the end of the nineteenth century. One can go on, as James Morris does, on the subject of Transjordan's deficiencies:
It produced nothing very much, made nothing at all, was economically unviable and geographically nonsensical. Its principal town was the one-horse Amman. Its most famous places (Jerash, Petra, Kerak) were all ruins. Its forests had disappeared into the stores of the Hejaz Railway, for fuel or railway ties. It had hardly any roads, only one railway line, virtually no schools, no police, and no very logical raison d'être.
It boasted, rather, barren mountains in abundance and an unending desert.
Until quite recently, the east bank was a forlorn hinterland without an identity of its own. It was less a part of Palestine then its waif.
To be sure, the Jordanian economy and society did subsequently develop. Amman, now a well-established capital city, is a large metropolitan area replete with banks, multinational firms, and a modern infrastructure. Universities have sprung up, the country's population is much expanded, and the nomadic life is fast disappearing. King Hussein has gained an international stature and Jordan even emerged as a regional power broker in the shadow of the Iraq-Iran war and the Syrian-Iraqi split.
But all this notwithstanding, Jordan remains a weak, somewhat artificial and precarious polity that has never fully overcome its geographic debility. The country continues to suffer from the extreme meagerness of its cultural resources; even a single historic city would make it count much more politically. Not since Nabatean times has anything important happened on the East side of the river; the most impressive man-made sights in Jordan even today are the second century B.C.E. ruins at Petra.
Admittedly, Palestine was hardly an international center of industry or military power at the outset of this century, either, but it was more advanced and it benefited from the status of being Eretz Yisrael and Terra Sancta - that sliver of territory to which hundreds of millions of Jews and Christians look as the geographic center of their spiritual worlds. Muslims too see it as something special, for Jerusalem is one of the most holy places of their religion. These religious associations endow the region with unique qualities.
The two banks differ now more than ever, for things took off in twentieth-century Palestine. Thanks to the Zionists, who brought European learning, institutions, and commerce, Palestine differed increasingly from the surrounding areas. It became forested and productive as it had not been for centuries. It became connected to the culture of the West and the domestic politics of Great Britain and the United States. Man-for-man, the Jewish military force became one of the finest in the world.
Most important, the Zionists articulated a compelling vision of Palestine's future as the Jewish homeland. And when one party longs terribly for an object, it is not strange that others come to value it more, too. The intensity of Jewish nationalism and changes on the ground inspired a response in kind on the Arab side - namely, the almost-overnight emergence of Palestinian nationalism. Ultimately, this sentiment originated in Zionism; had it not been for Jewish aspirations, the Arabs would no doubt have long continued to view Palestine as a province of a larger entity, either Greater Syria or the Arab nation. If not for another people seeing Palestine as their national home, the Arabs' attitudes toward the region would have resembled their indifference toward Jordan - a coolness only slowly eroded through many years of government effort by Amman.
Even if east and west banks were indistinct in the distant past, this was no longer the case by the eve of World War I, and it is certainly not so today.
IV. Mutual Palestinian and Jordanian Claims
The fourth premise has to do with Arab assertions that Palestine and Jordan are one region. These go back to 1921 and remain politically potent even today.
The Palestine Liberation Organization has often declared Jordan a part of Palestine, and occasionally lays formal claim to it. The eighth conference of the Palestine National Council (PNC), meeting in February-March 1971, resolved that "what links Jordan to Palestine is a national bond and a national unity formed, since time immemorial, by history and culture. The establishment of one political entity in Transjordan and another in Palestine is illegal." The draft program of tenth PNC conference (in April 1972) was even more forthright: "The need for struggle to overthrow the agent regime in Jordan, which is a front line of defense for the Zionist state and organically linked to Israel, has become no less urgent than the need for struggle against Zionist occupation." That Palestinians make up 60 percent of the east bank population and play a major role in all aspects of life there "implies that the two peoples be brought together into a Jordanian-Palestinian national liberation front."
Individual spokesmen have made even more specific claims. The PLO's first chief, Ahmad ash-Shuqayri argued that Jordan's 1950 annexation of the West Bank was actually an annexation of the east bank to Palestine. For him, Palestine "stretched from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Syrian-Iraqi desert." In 1966, a PLO representative to Lebanon declared Jordan "an integral part of Palestine, exactly like Israel."
Jordanians also stress the connection between the two regions. Both of Jordan's two major rulers, 'Abdallah (who ruled from 1921 to 1951) and Hussein (1953 to the present), have been outspoken on this issue. As early as 1926, 'Abdallah asserted that "Palestine is one unit. The division between Palestine and Transjordan is artificial and wasteful," a view he later repeated many times.
The establishment of Israel in 1948 hardly affected Hashemite claims to Palestine. The Jordanian prime minister declared in August 1959: "We here in Jordan, led by our great king [Hussein] are the government of Palestine, the army of Palestine, and we are the refugees." The king himself stated in 1965 that "the two peoples have integrated; Palestine has become Jordan, and Jordan Palestine." He also declared that "those organizations which seek to differentiate between Palestinians and Jordanians are traitors who help Zionism in its aim of splitting the Arab camp.... We have only one army, one political organization, and one popular recruiting system in this country."
Losing the West Bank in 1967 also made little difference for Jordanian claims. Prime Minister Zayd ar-Rifa'i told an interviewer in 1975:
Jordan is Palestine. They have never been ruled as two separate states except during the British Mandate. Before 1918 the two banks of the Jordan River were a single state. When they returned to being a single state after 1948, it was a matter of building on the earlier unity. Their families are one, as are their welfare, affiliation, and culture.
King Hussein asserted again in 1981 that "Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan."
After a breakdown of diplomatic efforts between Jordan and the PLO in February 1986, the king announced that he speaks "as one who feels he is a Palestinian." Soon after, 'Akif al-Fayiz, President of the Jordanian Parliament, declared that "Jordan does not distinguish between its people on the East and on the West Bank. Our people is one and our family is one. We look forward to the day when the one family will resume its historic role." Anwar al-Khatib, former Jordanian mayor of East Jerusalem, echoed these sentiments later in 1986: "Palestine, Jordan and Syria constituted one family until the British and French occupation in 1918, which drove the wedge of boundaries among us. We do not differentiate between our people, whether they live in Jordan, Syria, or Palestine." One could go on endlessly citing such language; it is as common as honeybees on clover.
For advocates of Jordan-is-Palestine, such claims suggest Arab agreement that Palestine and Jordan are identical. But this interpretation distorts the real character of these remarks, which are not disinterested analyses but propaganda ploys and declarations of hostile intent. Minimally, they establish diplomatic positions within inter-Arab arena. Maximally, they assert rights to expand and rule other regions; the PLO hopes to stake out a claim to territory it does not control; Amman seeks to protect territories it either controls or hopes one day to control again (the West Bank).
Palestinians cast an occasional covetous glance toward the hinterland; this helps explain in part the Jordanian-PLO war of 1970. Their periodic claims to Hussein's kingdom also reflect an intent to bring down the Hashemites as a aid to conquering Palestine. For their part, Jordanians have cast frequent envious glances at the coastline; 'Abdallah spent long years plotting to establish a presence on the West Bank and his grandson Hussein, while more subtle and less driven, has also devoted many efforts to this end.
Whenever Hussein declared that "Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan," he had at least three purposes. First, as Asher Susser observes, it was his way of asserting that "Jordan deserves to play a central and decisive role in the determination of the political fate of the Palestinians." Second, the king's remarks were aimed toward Palestinians under Israeli occupation, where the Hashemite-PLO battle for Palestinian favor rages hardest. Third, Hashemite statements have to be seen in the light of efforts to integrate and manage east bank Palestinians. The many Palestinians on the east bank, estimated between 40 and 70 percent of the total population, compelled the king to demonstrate his commitment to the Palestine issue. These considerations explain why for forty years Amman rhetorically adopted Palestinian aspirations.
The king's dramatic but as yet partial cutting of ties with Palestine in July suggests that he now worries less about internal stability than about the dangers created by the West Bank imbroglio. Too, Jordan's recent disavowal of claims to sovereignty on the West Bank is a tactical twist that brings to mind similar declamations in the 1974-75 period. Hussein says he is deferring to the PLO; actually, he hopes to divide and destroy and then return. The nature of his conflict with the PLO remains unchanged.
Those who argue that Jordan-is-Palestine have been quick to dismiss Hussein's sincerity in order to protect their argument. However correct about Hussein, the general argument remains invalid, for it rips quotes to the effect that Palestine equals Jordan out of context. Just because Arab leaders have said so from time to time does not make this true.
Invite the PLO to Amman?
What if, following the logic of Jordan-is-Palestine, Israel facilitates a PLO overthrow of King Hussein and encourages Yasir 'Arafat to take power in Amman? This scenario is not pure fantasy, for a number of leading Israelis say they look favorably on such a development. When he was minister of interior, Ariel Sharon adopted policies with an eye to encouraging West Bank and Gaza Arabs to cross the river. (Indeed, following the 200,000 Arabs who fled in the havoc of the June 1967 war, at least another 350,000 have crossed since September 1967.) His ulterior aim is to tip the ethnographic balance on the east bank and thereby bring down the Hashemites. Even such perceptive American analysts as Charles Krauthammer have seen the PLO taking power in Amman as a positive development for Israel.
Israelis do this for three reasons. Some say that because Palestinians make up so much of the Jordanian population, are much more dynamic, and will never be convinced to see themselves as Jordanians, they will eventually take over the country. The 40-year old Hashemite effort of Jordanization must fail; in effect, Jordan already is a Palestinian state. In answer, one should note that this seriously misreads the skill, composition and élan of the Jordanian military. A Palestinian takeover of Jordan is far from inevitable. Moreover, the record of several minoritarian governments in the Middle East (Syria and Iraq especially) suggests that the Hashemites can last a long time. And even if Palestinian rule should be inevitable, why speed up the process? Why help remove a tolerable regime for one that will almost certainly be implacably hostile?
Second, the Jordan-is-Palestine argument subtly addresses Israel's most fundamental problem - the fact of a surging Arab population. Jewish Israelis are approaching an unpleasant choice: if Israel keeps the occupied territories, it either preserves the Jewish character of the state by sacrificing its democracy; or the reverse. The Jordan-is-Palestine argument, by implying the permissibility of "transferring" the Arab population of "Western" Palestine to the Eastern part, has a potentially important role here, for it is the only way that a Greater Israel can remain both Jewish and democratic.
But anything that encourages this temptation is unfortunate, for the likely costs to Israel of such a course would be staggeringly high. In addition to the not insignificant moral price, this path might well undo the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, profoundly alienate the U.S. government and most of diaspora Jewry, and end the Soviet-Israeli rapprochement (and with it the hope of extensive immigration of Soviet Jews). The expulsion of the Arabs would probably lead to greater emigration from Israel of precisely the educated and professional people Israel can least afford to lose.
Third, some see Israeli security benefiting from the PLO in Amman. They hold that the PLO, having replaced the Hashemites, would leave Israel be; that Israel would find it easier to handle the PLO once 'Arafat faces the trials of day-to-day administration; and that international pressure against Israel would lessen once the Palestinians take control of their own state, even one on the east bank. But these speculations are probably all wrong. Were the PLO to replace Hussein in Amman, several consequences would follow which are anything but happy from the Israeli and American points of view.
To begin with, the PLO will never accept Jordan as a substitute for Palestine. This conclusion is as close to certain as anything can be in human affairs. While Palestinian nationalists do think the east bank belongs to them, their real interest is permanently focused west of the river, and nothing will change this. Salah Khalaf put it bluntly: "There is no alternative to the Palestinian land for establishing our independent state.... We will not accept any solution outside Palestine." Were Palestinians to rule the east bank, they would not rest on their laurels, but use it as a base from which to conquer Palestine proper, much as the Hebrews did under Joshua roughly 32 centuries ago, or as King 'Abdallah tried just forty years ago.
Then, because Palestinian nationalism still outweighs Jordanian national feeling for many Palestinians living on the east bank, these lead a schizophrenic political existence. A PLO takeover would galvanize them to do battle against Israel. Many of those now content with the rather mild brew that the king serves them will be jolted into action by the PLO's far stronger tonic.
Further, experience shows that aggressive leaders are encouraged by success to reach for more and more. Given the Palestinians' long record of intransigence and maximalism, it is safe to assume that this rule would exactly apply to its leaders. From Amin al-Husseini to Ahmad ash-Shuqayri to Yasir 'Arafat to the shadowy figures behind the West Bank riots of recent months, Palestinian nationalist leaders have on every critical occasion succumbed to the extremist temptation. Taking over in Amman would only confirm the utility of PLO intransigence and boost its most vicious elements. With the Hashemites under their belt, PLO leaders would regress to policies of twenty years earlier, and once again seriously entertain hopes that they really could destroy Israel. The price Israel has paid for vigilance all these years, and the patience it has invested in Arab moderation, will have been squandered if a new wave of romanticism sweeps the Palestinians and inspires them to ratchet up their demands.
Sovereign power would also allow the PLO for the first time ever to pose a serious military challenge to Israel. Newly centered in Amman, the days of a PLO leadership divided between Tunis and Baghdad would be over. Once the PLO shared a long and porous border with Israel, over too would be those pathetic efforts to mount operations against Israel from the Sudan. Nor would it have to confront the formidable Israel Defense Forces with little more than small arms; Jordan's economy and society would almost surely be mobilized, Soviet-style, to support a vast military effort, including, we must assume these days, ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads. If Hafiz al-Asad could turn the hapless soldiers of Syria into a powerful force, surely the PLO could do even better in Jordan. Such a development would make Israelis long for the by-gone days of terrorism.
Too, Israel would lose the Arab government that for three generations has steadily done the most to accommodate its interests. The two major Jordanian monarchs, 'Abdallah and Hussein, consistently sought decent relations with the Zionists, and they worked over many years with Israel in endeavors of mutual interest. Symbolic of the two states' mutual needs, their leaders have met with each other about twenty times since King 'Abdallah met with Golda Meir in November 1947. The tacit alliance that ran West Bank affairs after 1967 included agreements ranging, in the words of an Israeli official, "from anti-mosquito to anti-terrorism issues," and covered such matters as currency regulations, water distribution, and the training of doctors. The Israeli government would be very foolish to help destroy a reasonable, well-behaved neighbor for a group that has been utterly consistent in its intransigence and extremism.
Israel and Jordan have important interests in common, for radical Palestinian nationalism mortally threatens them both. Like Israel, the Hashemites gain from anything that reduces the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, regardless how much trouble the PLO challenge causes for Israel, the solution does not lie in the sacrifice of the Jordanian monarchy. King Hussein needs to be sheltered against his chief predator, not fed to it.
Finally, a change of regime in Amman would seriously damage American interests. Jordan has provided a relatively pro-American outpost that should not be forsaken for a sleight-of-hand solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A PLO-dominated Jordan would hurt the American position in the Middle East at the same time that it boosted the Soviet one. The United States does not have so many friends in the region that it can afford simply to throw one away. If Jordan fell to the PLO, what faith could America's remaining friends in the Arab world have in U.S. will and wisdom?
Even short of the Hashemites falling, Jordan-is-Palestine has a detrimental impact. According to Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, the rapprochement between Jordan and Iraq that occurred during the 1980s (and culminated in King Hussein's support for Saddam Hussein's stand on Kuwait) "stems from Amman's fear of statements made by Israeli political circles. The Jordanians are afraid that Israel will act forcefully to implement the idea that Jordan is the Palestinian state." If this is even partially true, it indicates the price Israel pays for Jordan-is-Palestine rhetoric.
The Jordan-is-Palestine idea is not only historically wrong, legally superficial, geographically ignorant, and politically procrustean, but its implementation would be extremely dangerous. Espousal of this idea by people who genuinely care about Israel's security, and who long to make the conflict less intractable by widening the territorial scope for its solution, does not reduce the danger it poses. The true dimensions of the Jordan-is-Palestine folly begin to come into view when one combines the specter of an isolated, internally divided, and weakened Israel with a radical Soviet-supported Filastin on the east bank. This is where the path of Jordan-is-Palestine leads, and it is a direction Israel should not travel.
A Difficult Moment
It is particularly hard on Israelis not to have a Jordan-is-Palestine option now-precisely when the alternative ways to deal with the West Bank and Gaza Strip have also faded away. The autonomy plan envisaged in Camp David has been rendered obsolete by the Arab uprising. The Jordanian option (whereby Jordan returns to the West Bank) is gone, repudiated by none other than King Hussein.
With the disappearance of these happier solutions, Israel is apparently faced with just two stark and awful alternatives-annexing the West Bank and Gaza or handing them over to the PLO. And each of these is worse than it first appears, for annexation leads either to a demographic crisis in Israel or forceful transfer of population; and empowering the PLO means enthroning a widely hostile state hard on Israel's borders. The first spells disaster for Israel's internal life; the second poses a wholly new external threat. Understandably, the majority of Israelis deem both these routes unacceptable.
This leaves a deadlock which increasingly frustrates those-American Jews and Foreign Service Officers especially-who feel Israel must do something. But must it? However unsatisfactory, statis may be the best the present holds. Action for its own sake does no good; the best thing may well be to hold on and see what this volatile struggle brings next. Further, standing still need not take place in a political vacuum. The moment now calls for a re-affirmation of first principles. The search for an Arab interlocutor that began over twenty years ago, when Moshe Dayan announced that he was waiting for a telephone call, must go on. Calls did eventually come from Egypt and Lebanon, even from Jordan, but never from the Palestinians. Until the Palestinians do make that call, Israelis needs to remain vigilant against those who would destroy their state. Further, they need to support the Jordanian monarchy's parallel efforts to fend off extremists.
Those who yearn for a settlement should plead for a change of course from Palestinians, not Israelis. Unless that happens, there is no prospect of improvement over today's unhappy scene. Dismal as prospects for a settlement look, hasty action is even worse.
Sep. 1990 update: Garfinkle and I take another, this time briefer, look at the J-i-P issue at "President Arafat? [and the Jordan-Is-Palestine Issue]" National Interest, Fall 1990, pp. 97-99.
Aug. 6, 2009 update: For news on this topic, see this weblog entry: "Updates on the Jordan-Is-Palestine Thesis."