How Arab Rulers Undermined a Palestinian State

- MIDDLE EAST FORUM - Roie Yellinek and Assaf Malach - MAI, 2022 -

Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser (center) brokers a ceasefire during Black September between Yasser Arafat (left) and Jordan's King Hussein (right), Cairo, Sept. 27, 1970. Following a PLO attempt to subvert the Hashemite monarchy, Jordan expelled the PLO from its territory.

While the "Palestine question" has long dominated inter-Arab politics, not only have the Arab states been driven by their own ulterior motives, but they also have shown little concern for the wellbeing of the Palestinians, let alone their demand for a state of their own. This pattern dates back to the mandate years (1920-48) when the self-styled champions of the nascent pan-Arab movement—King Faisal of Iraq, Transjordan's Emir Abdullah, and Egyptian King Faruq—viewed Palestine as part of their would-be empires.

This situation culminated in the 1948 war when the all-Arab assault on Israel was launched in pursuit of the invading states' imperialist goals—not in support of Palestinian self-determination. In the words of the Arab League's secretary-general Abdel Rahman Azzam:

Abdullah was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine, with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. [The] Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon.[1]

In the decades following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Arab states continued to use the Palestinians to their own ends, exploiting the newly created "refugee problem" to tarnish Israel's international standing and channel their oppressed subjects' anger outwards. They did practically nothing to relieve this problem, let alone to facilitate the crystallization of Palestinian nationalism and the attainment of statehood.

This consistent lack of recognition of a separate Palestinian nationality by the Arab states was perpetrated by the main parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict: Jordan, Egypt, and Syria.

Jordanian National Identity

Jordan has ruled over more Palestinians than any other Arab state, especially during its occupation of the West Bank between 1948 and 1967. In these years, the kingdom became home to some 368,000 Palestinians who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war,[2] and the government systematically erased all traces of a distinct Palestinian identity in an attempt to create a wider Jordanian national identity.

Even during the 1948 war, King Abdullah made a brief visit to Jerusalem on November 15 where he proclaimed himself the ruler of Palestine as well as Jordan, and in April 1950, Jordan formally annexed the area it occupied in the war and designated it the "West Bank of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan."[3] A decade later, Abdullah's grandson and successor King Hussein declared his firm opposition to the idea of a separate "Palestinian entity," convening a conference in January 1960 of Hashemite loyalists to denounce the "despicable innovation" of the establishment of a Palestinian entity.[4]

The Palestinian residents of the east and west banks were incorporated into Jordan's social, economic, and political fabric to a far greater extent than their brothers in any other Arab state, primarily due to the kingdom's dire need to boost its scarce population and because of the high ratio of Palestinian refugees vis-à-vis the original Bedouin population. This explains why Jordan was the only Arab country to integrate fully the Palestinian refugees of 1948. Following the Israeli capture of the West Bank during the Six-Day War in June 1967, about 240,000 Palestinians were displaced for the first time and some 190,000 were refugees who had been displaced in 1948, increasing Jordan's Palestinian population to more than half of the kingdom's total inhabitants.[5]

Tension between the Hashemite regime and its Palestinian subjects grew steadily in the wake of the 1967 war as the Palestinian terror organizations established a state within a state in the kingdom, transforming its territory into a springboard for attacks on Israel. Matters erupted in September 1970 with an attempt on King Hussein's life as part of a wider Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bid to subvert the Hashemite monarchy and take over the state. This led to an all-out confrontation that came to be widely known as Black September. Amid heavy fighting with massacres of thousands of innocent civilians (including many of Palestinian descent) and a limited Syrian invasion in support of the PLO, the group was expelled from Jordan, a process completed in July 1971. And while this military routing failed to deal a mortal blow to the PLO, which quickly substituted Lebanon for Jordan as its home, Hussein continued his tireless efforts to weaken and marginalize the organization and by extension Palestinian nationalism. This was vividly illustrated by his March 1972 plan of a united Arab kingdom under his headship comprising Jordan, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, in which the Palestinians were to enjoy autonomy.[6] To the king's frustration, the plan, conceived with Israel's blessing, met with widespread Arab outrage, particularly in Egypt, where the government responded by severing diplomatic relations with Jordan.


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