Jordan Table of Contents

The Rabat Summit conference in October 1974 brought together the leaders of twenty Arab states, including Hussein, and representatives of the PLO. PLO leaders threatened a walkout if their demands for unconditional recognition were not met. The PLO required a statement from the conference that any Palestinian territory liberated by Arab forces would be turned over to the "Palestinian people" as represented by their organization. Jordan protested, pointing out that recognition on these terms would give the PLO sovereignty over half of the population in the East Bank and that in fact the annexation of the West Bank had been approved by popular vote.

A compromise solution was adopted that nonetheless favored PLO interests. The conference formally acknowledged the right of the Palestinian people to a separate homeland, but without specifying that its territory was restricted to the West Bank. Most important, the PLO was for the first time officially recognized by all the Arab states as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." The Arab heads of state also called for close cooperation between the front-line states and the PLO but prohibited interference by other Arab states in Palestinian affairs.

The Rabat Summit declaration conferred a mantle of legitimacy on the PLO that was previously absent. It gave official Arab recognition to PLO territorial claims to the West Bank and unambiguously put the fate of the Palestinian people solely in the hands of the PLO. Hussein opposed the declaration, although he eventually signed it under intense Arab pressure and after the Arab oil-producing states promised to provide Jordan with an annual subsidy of $US300 million. Despite his acquiescence to the Rabat declaration and subsequent statements in support of the PLO, Hussein persisted in viewing the declaration as an ambiguous document that was open to differing interpretations. The PLO, along with the rest of the Arab world, viewed Hussein's consent at Rabat as a renunciation of Jordanian claims to the West Bank. Hussein nonetheless continued to have aspirations concerning Jordanian control of the occupied territories. The wide gulf separating the two views was the major source of tension between the PLO and Jordan throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Following the Rabat Summit, the PLO scored an impressive political victory in the international arena. In late November 1974, the UN recognized PLO representation of the Palestinian people, and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat addressed the General Assembly in Arabic, his pistol at his side. In addition, in a joint communiqué issued the same month, President Gerald R. Ford of the United States and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev acknowledged the "legitimate interests" of the Palestinians in accordance with the UN resolutions. Nonetheless, a UN draft resolution in 1976 proposing to reaffirm the right of the Palestinians to self-determination-- and including the right to establish an independent state--was vetoed in the Security Council by the United States, which called instead for a "reasonable and acceptable definition of Palestinian interests."

After the Rabat Summit, Hussein stressed the need for Jordanian political self-sufficiency. He told his subjects, "a new reality exists and Jordan must adjust to it. The West Bank is no longer Jordanian." But having surrendered title to half his kingdom at the behest of the Arab states, Hussein confessed concern that the East Bank might become a "substitute Palestine," swallowed up as the balance of political power there shifted to its Palestinian majority.

The tone of Hussein's approach to the Palestinians in the East Bank changed markedly following the Rabat Summit. He advised that the resident Palestinians--estimated at 900,000 or more--must choose between Jordanian citizenship or Palestinian identity. No attempt would be made to oust those who chose the latter, he said, and they would be permitted to remain in Jordan as "guests." He also insisted that any Palestinian choosing to keep his Jordanian citizenship must be allowed to do so without endangering his rights in the West Bank; he further promised that any Palestinian living in the East Bank who chose to identify his interests with those of the "Palestinian people" could do so without jeopardizing his rights as a Jordanian citizen.

In response to the new political situation following the Rabat Summit, Hussein reorganized Jordan's political and administrative institutions. On November 9, he amended the Constitution to give the king authority to dissolve the House of Representatives and to delay elections as he saw fit. Using this constitutional prerogative, Hussein dissolved the lower house of the National Assembly--the elected House of Representatives--when it had completed its work on November 23. The House of Representatives, half of whose sixty members represented West Bank constituencies, could no longer function without undermining the newly recognized representative status of the PLO. The Constitution was amended to provide for the indefinite postponement of elections for a new House of Representatives so as to avoid elections on the East Bank alone, which if held would have symbolized the final separation of the West Bank from Jordan. In addition to dissolving the House of Representatives, Hussein directed Prime Minister Zaid ar Rifai to form a new government that did not include Palestinians from the West Bank. No move was made, however, to relieve Palestinians in the Jordanian army, where they composed one-third of the officer corps, albeit mostly in noncombatant functions. The government also continued to pay the salaries of 6,000 civil servants and teachers in the West Bank, which amounted to about US$40 million a year.

As a result of Hussein's partial reversal from the commitments made at Rabat, Jordanian-PLO relations deteriorated throughout much of 1975. At the year's end, however, the Palestine National Council, meeting in Damascus, backed an effort to reconcile its differences with Hussein. The broadcast of antiregime propaganda was temporarily suspended and, although PLA units remained stationed in Jordan in military camps, the PLO accepted restrictions on its political and military presence there. At the Arab summit conference held at Cairo in January 1976, Jordan and the PLO once again were embroiled in a dispute over Jordan's role in negotiating an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Jordan declared that it had no responsibility for negotiating such a withdrawal. In response, the PLO resumed its hostile propaganda shortly after the meeting.

In February 1976, Hussein summoned an extraordinary session of the National Assembly--attended by about half of the representatives elected from the West Bank--to enact legislation enabling the king to postpone indefinitely the general elections scheduled for later in the month. The king's spokespersons explained that the action was necessary because of "compelling circumstances" that prevailed in the country. That same month, Hussein abolished the Jordanian National Union.

In July Zaid ar Rifai, who had led the government since 1973, stepped down as prime minister. Hussein replaced him with Mudar Badran, chief of the royal court. The Badran government set up the Bureau of Occupied Homeland Affairs, headed by former members of parliament from West Bank constituencies, ostensibly to coordinate and advise on relations with Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory. The government also conducted discussions on the renewed possibility of some form of federation between the West Bank and the East Bank. The PLO charged that the newly created Bureau of Occupied Homeland Affairs had been formed to channel support to pro-Jordanian candidates in municipal elections to be held in the West Bank in April 1977. Badran denied these allegations and reaffirmed Jordan's commitment to the concept that the Palestinians themselves must decide the future of the West Bank. PLO-backed candidates won an overwhelming victory in the April elections.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress