The Road to Peace Between Jordan and Israel

It's not easy being Jordan.

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King Hussein, the Palestinians, and Israel

King Hussein may have well concluded from this that the Palestinians posed the greatest danger of all to his kingdom. He worked diligently to suppress a Palestinian national identity, repeatedly stating that "Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan," a phrase now cited approvingly by the Israeli right.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Hussein was a staunch ally of the United States, receiving millions of dollars in aid and information from U.S. intelligence. But with the onset of the Six Day War in 1967, King Hussein was swept up in the anti-Israel fervor, making what he later termed "the biggest mistake of my life" by launching mortars against Israel.

In the Six Day War, Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Approximately 300,000 Palestinian refugees from these regions fled to the territory on the east side of the Jordan, and the Palestinian population under Hussein’s rule grew even more.

Nationalistic feelings among Palestinians living in Jordan rose, leading to open conflict with the Jordanian state. 1n 1970, following a series of hijackings orchestrated by the Palestine Liberation Organization, King Hussein violently confronted the PLO, leaving several thousand Palestinians dead in what became known as "Black September."

Throughout his reign, King Hussein maintained regular contacts with Israeli leaders--who also had an interest in suppressing Palestinian nationalism. During Black September, when a Syrian invasion of Jordan became likely, Israel deployed troops on its own northeast border, causing Syrian leader Hafez al Assad to back down.

But despite Israel and Jordan’s cooperation, the two countries did not sign a peace treaty until 1994. King Hussein repeatedly said that he could not go further than the Palestinians; he simply could not openly be closer to Israel than his majority Palestinian population. Only once Yasser Arafat had signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, did Hussein have the political cover he needed to make official what had been a tacit alliance for decades.

A Lukewarm Peace

But there has never been the kind of "normalization" between Jordan and Israel that one would expect of two countries at peace. As with the Oslo Accords, the Jordan-Israel peace treaty was expected to lead to phenomenal economic benefits, as the two nations would beat their swords into productive activity and Israeli hi-tech would complement Jordanian low-wage labor. Indeed, Jordanian business elites entered into mutually beneficial partnership with their Israeli counterparts, who exported low-wage textile jobs to Jordan, where labor costs were competitive with the world's poorest countries. 

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Simona Fuma Weinglass

Simona Fuma Weinglass is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem.

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