Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but the resulting peace is lukewarm at best. Popular opinion in Jordan is resentful of the Jewish state for its treatment of the Palestinians. Jordan’s monarchy cannot afford to ignore popular opinion, so it tries to strike a balance between its own strategic interests–namely good relations with its often-quarrelling neighbors–while accommodating the wishes of its majority Palestinian population and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
King Hussein I
“Jordan is stuck between Iraq and a hard place,” its ruler King Abdullah II likes to quip, reflecting on the conflicting pressures Jordan’s warring neighbors exert. In order to understand Jordan’s dilemma vis-à-vis Israel, it is important to understand the kingdom’s history.
An Expanding Kingdom
In 1921, at a time when vast amounts of Middle East real-estate were up for grabs, Winston Churchill appointed Abdullah bin al-Hussein, the son of an Arab nobleman, as Arab governor of the eastern part of the Palestine Mandate, an area called Transjordan. The British gave Abdullah independence over this region in 1946, and the kingdom of Transjordan was born.
Abdullah was a relatively pro-Western and moderate Arab leader, expressing admiration for the technical know-how of Zionist settlers in western Palestine. Nevertheless, in 1947, when the United Nations decided to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, King Abdullah couldn’t resist the chance to enlarge his kingdom. He seized on the chaos of the ensuing war to conquer what is now known as the West Bank.
After the war, Transjordan became Jordan, and Abdullah found himself ruling several hundred thousand Palestinians there, both the original Arab inhabitants of the West Bank, and refugees from Israel who settled along the Jordan River.
Syria, Egypt, and Iraq became worried about Jordanian aggrandizement, and they smeared Abdullah in their government-controlled press, describing Israel and Jordan as “allies” and accusing Abdullah of betraying the Palestinians by entering into somewhat tepid peace talks with the Zionists.