Jordan, like the Middle East generally, has thousands of years of history, but “modern” Jordan was formed in the post-WWI years. A word about “The Essence of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” is timely here. This is a basic recitation of events related to Jordan to provide some context, taken from my Lonely Planet guidebook and the Globetrotter Travel Guide. I don’t pretend that it contains all relevant events, all arguments, or all arguments for all sides. Whole books have been written on various aspects of these subjects. With that understood, here we go:
At the beginning of WWI in 1914, the Ottoman Empire included much of the modern Middle East, meaning what is now Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The Ottomans (who were Turks, not Arabs) aligned themselves with the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.) The British sent Colonel T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” to assist and encourage the nascent Arab Revolt as a way of distracting the Ottomans from assisting the Germans. Lawrence described it as “an Arab war waged and led by Arabs for an Arab aim in Arabia.” The Arabs fought with swords and guns on horseback, formed loosely into armies under the direction of Emir Faisal of Mecca, aided by his brother Abdullah. By 1918, the Arabs controlled Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and parts of southern Syria. Faisal set up government in Damascus and looked forward to an independent Arab realm.
The British had promised to help Arab independence as part of the deal to undermine the Ottomans. But, in 1916, Britain and France had made a secret agreement, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, to give France control of Syria and Lebanon, and to give Britain control of the Palestinian Territories (which included modern-day Israel) and Jordan. In addition, in 1917 the British had issued the Balfour Declaration, which stated that Britain favored the establishment of a “National Home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, and they would make their best effort to make it happen. Britain’s “best effort” took another twenty years, during which they effectively ruled Palestine and Jordan.
In the meantime, in 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, the British reached an agreement with Faisal that gave Faisal the area of Iraq, and Abdullah, Faisal’s brother, was proclaimed the ruler of Trans-Jordan, an area lying roughly between Iraq and the eastern side of the Jordan River. Abdullah made his capital Amman. There was no state of Israel and no state of Palestine, although there was an area traditionally known as Palestine, occupied by people who called themselves Palestinians, comprising about 90% of the population. And, despite the designation of Arab “rulers,” Britain had effective control.)
It was not until 1946 that Jordan gained full independence from Britain; Abdullah was proclaimed King of Jordan, the first of the Hashemite line.
At the end of WWII, the Holocaust had created a lot of support for the creation of a Jewish homeland. In 1947, the young United Nations voted to create a Jewish homeland by partitioning Palestine into three Jewish sections and four Arab sections. Jerusalem was to be administered internationally. The proposal was supported by Western nations and the Soviet Union. Britain abstained from the vote, which was 33 in favor, 13 opposed. The Arab League, consisting then of six Arab nations, rejected the proposal, based on their belief that the entire region should remain Arab.
In 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed, the British withdrew immediately, and immediately hostilities between Arabs and Israelis ensued. A half million Palestinians became refugees in the West Bank, straining regional resources. King Abdullah won control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Israel.
In 1950, King Abdullah annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ignoring assurances of Palestinian independence and promises of no territorial annexations. King Abdullah proclaimed the new “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” which was immediately recognized by Britain and the United States, however, other Arab nations did not support the annexation.
A statue of King Abdullah I in front of Jordan’s Parliament House in Amman.
King Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951. King Abdullah’s throne passed briefly to Crown Prince Talal, who suffered severe health problems, so the throne shortly went to his grandson, who became King Hussein in 1953.
King Hussein created a form of Jordanian citizenship for Palestinian Arab refugees in 1960, but refused to let go of Palestinian territory. That refusal was part of the reason that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) formed in 1964.
The PLO sent guerrilla raids into Israel from Syria. Israel massed troops, preparing for an assault. Egypt’s President Nasser opposed Israel and maneuvered to close access to the Red Sea and the port of Eilat, and persuaded Jordan to sign a mutual defense agreement. These events precipitated the Six Day War of 1967.
The result for Jordan was a disaster. It lost the entire West Bank and its section of Jerusalem, a humiliating loss of territory, resulting in another surge of refugees into remaining Jordan, mainly Amman. Economically, it also represented two important income streams, agriculture and tourism, creating a financial strain concurrent with the new refugees. Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula and Syria lost the Golan Heights.
There was turmoil within Jordan, violent events between King Hussein and the Palestinians, and a lot of tension for the next several years. Martial law was declared, and the Jordanian military finally quelled the Palestinians’ violent defiance, but over 3,000 people died in the process. In 1974, King Hussein reluctantly gave up any claim to the West Bank and relinquished representation to the PLO.
Significant demographic changes came to Jordan. Jordan’s population swelled, mainly with young people. Amman’s population grew, largely with Palestinian refugees, but also with rural population shifts to the city. Jordan also lost significant numbers to other, wealthier Gulf States. In addition, Jordan moved to improve education, and social changes followed closely. Importantly, Palestinians integrated with Jordan’s population, and are the majority of the population today.
King Hussein died in February, 1999. Between 1953 and 1999, Hussein had become a powerful voice for moderation in the Middle East. His funeral was attended by current and past presidents of Israel and major powers in tribute to his reputation as a mediator. His son, Abdullah II, is the current King of Jordan.
Other photos of King Abdullah I, “The Founder:” (My mistake – I have learned since that this is the father of King Abdullah I, Emir Hussein.)