Jordan Table of Contents

At its inception in 1921, the Amirate of Transjordan had fewer than 400,000 inhabitants. Of this number, about 20 percent lived in four towns each having populations of from 10,000 to 30,000. The balance were farmers in village communities and pastoral nomadic and seminomadic tribespeople. The amirate's treasury operated on British financial aid established on the basis of an annual subsidy. A native civil service was gradually trained with British assistance, but government was simple, and Abdullah ruled directly with a small executive council, much in the manner of a tribal shaykh. British officials handled the problems of defense, finance, and foreign policy, leaving internal political affairs to Abdullah. To supplement the rudimentary police in 1921, a reserve Arab force was organized by F. G. Peake, a British officer known to the Arabs as Peake Pasha. This Arab force soon was actively engaged in suppressing brigandage and repelling raids by the Wahhabis. In 1923 the police and reserve force were combined into the Arab Legion as a regular army under Peake's command.

In 1923 Britain recognized Transjordan as a national state preparing for independence. Under British sponsorship, Transjordan made measured progress along the path to modernization. Roads, communications, education, and other public services slowly but steadily developed, although not as rapidly as in Palestine, which was under direct British administration. Tribal unrest remained a persistent problem, reaching serious proportions in 1926 in the Wadi Musa-Petra area. In the same year, Britain attached senior judicial advisers to Abdullah's government, and formed the Transjordan Frontier Force. This body was a locally recruited unit of the British Army assigned to guard the frontier and was distinct from the Arab Legion.

Britain and Transjordan took a further step in the direction of self-government in 1928, when they agreed to a new treaty that relaxed British controls while still providing for Britain to oversee financial matters and foreign policy. The two countries agreed to promulgate a constitution--the Organic Law--later the same year, and in 1929 to install the Legislative Council in place of the old executive council. In 1934 a new agreement with Britain allowed Abdullah to set up consular representation in Arab countries, and in 1939 the Legislative Council formally became the amir's cabinet, or council of ministers.

In 1930, with British help, Jordan launched a campaign to stamp out tribal raiding among the beduins. A British officer, John Bagot Glubb (better known as Glubb Pasha), came from Iraq to be second in command of the Arab Legion under Peake. Glubb organized a highly effective beduin desert patrol consisting of mobile detachments based at strategic desert forts and equipped with good communications facilities. When Peake retired in 1939, Glubb succeeded to full command of the Arab Legion.

Abdullah was a faithful ally to Britain during World War II. Units of the Arab Legion served with distinction alongside British forces in 1941 overthrowing the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali regime that had seized power in Iraq and defeating the Vichy French in Syria. Later, elements of the Arab Legion were used in guarding British installations in Egypt.

During the war years, Abdullah--who never surrendered his dream of a Greater Syria under a Hashimite monarchy--took part in the inter-Arab preliminary discussions that resulted in the formation of the League of Arab States (Arab League) in Cairo in March 1945. The original members of the League of Arab States were Transjordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen.

In March 1946, Transjordan and Britain concluded the Treaty of London, under which another major step was taken toward full sovereignty for the Arab state. Transjordan was proclaimed a kingdom, and a new constitution replaced the obsolete 1928 Organic Law. Abdullah's application for membership in the UN was disapproved by a Soviet Union veto, which asserted that the country was not fully independent of British control. A further treaty with Britain was executed in March 1948, under which all restrictions on sovereignty were removed, although limited British base and transit rights in Transjordan continued, as did the British subsidy that paid for the Arab Legion.

By 1947 Palestine was one of the major trouble spots in the British Empire, requiring a presence of 100,000 troops to maintain peace and a huge maintenance budget. On February 18, 1947, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin informed the House of Commons of the government's decision to present the Palestine problem to the UN. On May 15, 1947, a special session of the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), consisting of eleven members. UNSCOP reported on August 31 that a majority of its members supported a geographically complex system of partition into separate Arab and Jewish states, a special international status for Jerusalem, and an economic union linking the three members. Supported by both the United States and the Soviet Union, this plan was adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Although they considered the plan defective in terms of their expectations from the mandate agreed to by the League of Nations twenty-five years earlier, the Zionist General Council stated their willingness in principle to accept partition. The Arab League Council, meeting in December 1947, said it would take whatever measures were required to prevent implementation of the resolution. Abdullah was the only Arab ruler willing to consider acceptance of the UN partition plan.

Amid the increasing conflict, the UN Implementation Commission was unable to function. Britain thereupon announced its intention to relinquish the mandate and withdrew from Palestine on May 14, 1948. On the same day, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed in Jerusalem. Palestinian Arabs refused to set up a state in the Arab zone.

In quick succession, Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia advanced into Israel. Except for the British-trained Arab Legion, they were composed of inexperienced and poorly led troops. Abdullah, the sole surviving leader of the Arab Revolt of World War I, accepted the empty title of commander in chief of Arab forces extended to him by the Arab League. His motive for ordering the Arab Legion into action was expressly to secure the portion of Palestine allocated to the Arabs by the 1947 UN resolution. The Arab Legion, concentrated on the East Bank opposite Jericho, crossed the Jordan on May 15 and quickly captured positions in East Jerusalem and its environs. The Legion also created a salient at Latrun northwest of Jerusalem to pinch the Israeli supply line into the city. Abdullah had been particularly insistent that his troops must take and hold the Old City of Jerusalem, which contained both Jerusalem's principal Muslim holy places and the traditional Jewish Quarter. Other Arab Legion units occupied Hebron to the south and fanned out through Samaria to the north (Samaria equates to the northern part of the West Bank). By the end of 1948, the areas held by the Arab Legion and the Gaza Strip, held by the Egyptians, were the only parts of the former Mandate of Palestine remaining in Arab hands.

Early in the conflict, on May 29, 1948, the UN Security Council established the Truce Commission headed by a UN mediator, Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, who was assassinated in Jerusalem on September 17, 1948. He was succeeded by Ralph Bunche, an American, as acting mediator. The commission, which later evolved into the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization-Palestine (UNTSOP), attempted to devise new settlement plans and arranged truces. Armistice talks were initiated with Egypt in January 1949, and an armistice agreement was established with Egypt on February 24, with Lebanon on March 23, with Transjordan on April 3, and with Syria on July 20. Iraq did not enter into an armistice agreement but withdrew its forces after turning over its positions to Transjordanian units.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress