The Palestinian Problem

Jordan Table of Contents

Jordan's relations with the PLO have reflected the conflicting territorial claims of the Palestinians and Jordan. Since the June 1967 War, both the PLO and Jordan have staked claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although Hussein and the PLO, like the rest of the Arab world, have rejected Israeli suzerainty over the territories, they differed widely on how the occupied territories should be administered and by whom.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jordan asserted its role in the lives of West Bank Palestinians in various ways. Jordan distributed financial assistance, oversaw the freedom of movement of people and merchandise across the bridges of the Jordan River, assumed the role of protector of the rights of the population under Israeli occupation, and sought the condemnation of Israel in the international community for alleged acts of injustice against the people of the West Bank. Beginning in 1979, individuals from the West Bank, like other Jordanian citizens, were required to obtain new identity cards to benefit from Jordanian government services and to obtain Jordanian passports. Mutual mistrust, however, had prevented agreement between Jordan and the PLO on any form of longterm political cooperation beyond the joint distribution of funds to the occupied territories.

Jordanians, however, remained adamantly opposed to the fedayeen reestablishing bases in Jordan from which to launch guerrilla operations against Israel. Hussein feared that Israel, maintaining a distinct military advantage over the badly divided Arab states, would launch punishing reprisal raids against Jordan if guerrilla operations were to resume. This appraisal was strongly reinforced by the Israeli air raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981.

During the second half of 1980, talk of the so-called "Jordanian option" revived because of the approaching elections in Israel, President Ronald Reagan's election victory in the United States, and talk of a new European initiative in the Middle East. On the surface, the Jordanian option resembled Hussein's version of a settlement with Israel; it envisioned Jordan acting as the major Arab interlocutor in a peace settlement with Israel. Jordan, however, could not outwardly appear as if it were breaking away from the Arab fold and usurping Palestinian prerogatives, unless it were likely that concessions made by Jordan would be reciprocated by Israel. Given the right-wing Likud government in power in Israel, Hussein surmised that such Israeli territorial concessions would not be forthcoming.

As a result, Jordan's public posture on the Palestinian question was ambiguous. In public statements acknowledging PLO representation of the Palestinian people Hussein frequently emphasized the important role Jordan had played in the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Moreover, he rarely identified the PLO as the "sole" legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress