JORDAN'S LOCATION AS a buffer zone between the settled region of the Mediterranean littoral west of the Jordan River and the major part of the desert to the east contributed significantly to the country's experience in ancient and more recent times. Until 1921, however, Jordan had a history as a vaguely defined territory without a separate political identity. Its earlier history, closely associated with the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, therefore comes under the histories of the contending empires of which it often formed a part.
By the time the area was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century, the inhabitants of three general geographic regions had developed distinct loyalties. The villagers and town dwellers of Palestine, west of the Jordan River, were oriented to the major cities and ports of the coast. In the north of presentday Jordan, scattered villagers and tribesmen associated themselves with Syria while the tribesmen of southern Jordan were oriented toward the Arabian Peninsula. Although most of the populace were Arab Muslims, the integration of peoples with such differing backgrounds and regional characteristics hampered the creation of a cohesive society and state.
In 1921 the Amirate of Transjordan was established under British patronage on the East Bank by the Hashimite (also seen as Hashemite) prince Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi, who had been one of the principal figures of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Direct British administration was established in Palestine, where Britain (in the Balfour Declaration of 1917) had pledged to implement the founding of a Jewish homeland.
In 1947 Britain turned the problem of its Palestine Mandate over to the United Nations (UN). The UN passed a resolution that provided for the partition of the mandate into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and an international zone. When on May 14, 1948, the British relinquished control of the area, the establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed. Transjordan's Arab Legion then joined the forces of other Arab states that had launched attacks on the new state. The end of the 1948-49 hostilities--the first of five Arab-Israeli wars--left Transjordan in control of the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. Abdullah changed the name of the country to Jordan, proclaimed himself king, and in 1950 annexed the West Bank. In the June 1967 War (known to Israelis as the Six-Day War), Israel seized the West Bank, and reunited Jerusalem. In late 1989, the area remained under Israeli occupation.
The dominant characteristic of the Hashimite regime has been its ability to survive under severe political and economic stress. Major factors contributing to the regime's survival have included British and United States economic and military aid and the personal qualities first of King Abdullah and then of his grandson, Hussein ibn Talal ibn Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi. King Hussein has been a skillful politician who has dealt adroitly with foreign and domestic crises by using caution and by seeking consensus. One exception to this style of policy making occurred during the 1970- 71 battle against Palestinian resistance fighters, when the king ordered his mostly beduin-manned army to remove completely the Palestinian guerrillas, even after neighboring Arab states had called for a cease-fire.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, regional events severely tested Jordan's stability. The election of the more hawkish Likud government in Israel and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank lent urgency to Hussein's quest for an Arab-Israeli territorial settlement. Arab ostracism of Egypt following the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords and the 1979 Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel ended Jordan's alliance with the Arab world's most politically influential and militarily powerful state. Jordan's vulnerability increased significantly in February 1979, when Shia radicals overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran. The Iranian revolutionaries threatened to expunge Western influences from the region and to overthrow non-Islamic Arab governments such as that of Jordan. Less than two years later, Iran and Iraq were embroiled in a costly war that caused a further shifting of Arab alliances; Jordan and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf sided with Iraq, while Syria supported Iran. SyrianJordanian relations deteriorated and nearly erupted in military conflict during the 1981 Arab summit conference in Amman, when Syrian president Hafiz al Assad accused Hussein of aiding the antigovernment Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Finally, the downward slide of world oil prices that began in 1981 drained Jordan's economy of the large quantities of Arab petrodollars that had stirred economic development throughout the 1970s.
The turmoil besetting the Arab states in the 1980s presented Jordan with both risks and opportunities. With the traditional Arab powers either devitalized or, in the case of Egypt, isolated, Jordan was able to assume a more prominent role in Arab politics. Moreover, as the influence of Jordan's Arab neighbors waned, Hussein pursued a more flexible regional policy.
The weakness of the Arab states, however, enabled the Begin government in Israel to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy and to accelerate the pace of settlements in the occupied territories. Thus, between 1981 and 1982, the Arab states reacted apathetically to Israel's attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, its annexation of the Golan Heights, and its June 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israeli aggressiveness and Arab passivity combined to raise fears in Jordan that Israel might annex the occupied territories and drive the Palestinians into Jordan. These fears were fueled by frequent references by Israel's hawkish Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon to Jordan as a Palestinian state.
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