Jordan, the West Bank, and Unbearable Hypocrisy
On May 5, King Abdullah II of Jordan told Der Spiegel that, “If Israel really annexed the West Bank valley in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” When pressed to explain what steps Jordan would take, Abdullah did not specify whether his country would cancel the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, but said that all options would be considered.
The agenda of the newly-minted Israeli government includes a potential vote in July to apply sovereignty to portions of the West Bank that would become part of Israel under the Trump administration’s 2020 peace plan. Although this is an unresolved issue both in timing and content, it appears that King Abdullah wants to threaten his nation’s peace with Israel.
Perhaps the primary audience for the king’s comments is not Israel, but rather Palestinians who live in Jordan and make up a majority of the country’s population. Maintaining stability and control over his country is no doubt a top priority for the king, and will likely be a factor in Israel’s decision-making as well. Still, considering Jordan’s history with the West Bank, the king’s position is almost the definition of hypocrisy.
To create context and highlight Jordan’s hypocritical behavior, it is essential to review the history. In 1920, the League of Nations (a predecessor to the UN), created the British Mandate for Palestine in what is now Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan (Jordan was cut off in 1922). The British were charged with facilitating Jewish immigration and the creation of a “Jewish national home.” In 1947, hoping to resolve the escalating conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Mandate, the UN proposed a division of the territory into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Most of what is today called the West Bank is in the area that would have been part of the Arab state. However, the UN’s plan never came to fruition.
Arab governments, including Jordan, rejected the UN’s compromise and launched a war — along with the Palestinian Arabs. Prior to the British surrender of the Mandate for Palestine and Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948, the Arab Legion of Jordan, led by British officers, entered Mandatory Palestine to take control of the proposed Arab state’s area and destroy the nascent Jewish state. Jordan and other Arab states were unsuccessful in destroying Israel, and when the fighting stopped, Jordan’s military was left in control of an area called Judea and Samaria. Jordan renamed it the “West Bank,” because it sits on the west side of the Jordan river. In the Spring of 1950, Jordan formally annexed the territory and the eastern section of Jerusalem, giving all previous residents of the area (but not Palestinian Arab refugees) automatic Jordanian citizenship.
This move was widely rejected and condemned. Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt demanded Jordan’s expulsion from the Arab League, which deemed its actions illegal. Around the world, only the United Kingdom and Pakistan formally recognized Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank.
After Jordan initiated hostilities with Israel by shelling western Jerusalem during the 1967 war, Israel responded defensively and captured the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. During the 19 years (1948-1967) that Jordan controlled the West Bank, no independent Palestinian Arab state was created. Many Palestinians in Jordan were relegated to refugee camps, fed a diet of anti-Israel hatred, and not integrated or granted citizenship. In 1988, Jordan formally disengaged from the West Bank by surrendering its claim to sovereignty, with the exception of guardianship over the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
Today, the West Bank remains part of a legal and political dispute between Israelis and the Palestinians. According to the Israeli government and numerous legal experts, a potential Israeli application of sovereignty would be different from Jordan’s illegal annexation, because the West Bank is “disputed territory” and Israel has legitimate legal claims.
These claims stem from the fact that the West Bank has not been under any nation’s legal sovereignty since the Mandate. The terms of the Mandate called for the area to be part of the “Jewish National Home.” Additionally, legal experts involved in drafting UN Security Council Resolution 242 after the 1967 Six Day War have stated that Israel is entitled to secure borders and is not legally obligated to withdraw from every inch of territory it acquired.
Palestinian and Israeli leaders must together resolve this dispute, and the conflict as a whole. While King Abdullah may feel the need to intervene and make threats in order to preserve order internally, Jordan’s history in the West Bank undercuts his moral legitimacy on this issue.
Dr. Eric Lankin is Vice President-Development of StandWithUs.