Since its establishment, the Kingdom of Jordan has suffered from a split personality between two identities, the Jordanian and the Palestinian, that are intertwined like a pair of Siamese twins who hate one another, but cannot part from each other. The source of the problem is the fact that most of the citizens of the Hashemite Jordanian monarchy define themselves as “Palestinians”, but their state is “Jordanian”. So how should they relate to it – as their country or as a foreign interloper?
The core of the problem hinges on the fact that the Kingdom of Jordan is not an entity with historic roots, but rather a modern creation of British colonialism, which succeeded the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of the First World War. Back then its name was “The Transjordan Emirates” because the British did not have a better, more unique name for it. Jordan is part of the “Sham”, the area that today includes Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Until the era of the British Mandate, Jordan was never a state or a distinct country, like – for example – Egypt, and did not have its own local leadership. The British appointed Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein, to be responsible for the Transjordan Emirates, despite the fact that the people of the area didn’t see him as a natural leader, or one of their own, as he was born hundreds of kilometers south of Jordan. This fact is the reason that the regime in Jordan is seen as an illegitimate regime by many in Jordan today.
Jordan is culturally divided into two parts: Bedouin on one hand, and farmers and city folk on the other. In the days of the British Mandate, before the establishment of the Emirates, everyone was “Palestinian” because everyone was a resident of the British Mandate for Palestine – the Land of Israel. After the founding of the Emirates, Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein from Mecca, was accepted as a legitimate leader mainly by the Bedouin, who formed the locus of those who were faithful to him, however the residents of the villages and cities felt that he was a foreigner whom the British brought in and paid off with a job. Therefore, the Bedouin adopted the identity of the Emirates, and subsequently, starting in the year 1946, assumed identity as subjects of the monarchy; while the residents of the villages and cities continued to call themselves “Palestinians” just as they had during the period of the Mandate. Some of them had family connections with the residents West of the Jordan, and therefore it was easier for them to adopt the Palestinian self-definition, which they preferred over that of “Jordanian”.
In the 1948 war, a few hundred thousand Arabs fled from Israel to Jordan, most being housed in refugee camps. During the years after that, mainly as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, a few more hundred thousand moved to Jordan. All of these are “Palestinians” of another sort: those who in the past lived in “Western Palestine”, and then crossed over the Jordan. All together, the Palestinians form an absolute majority of the residents of Jordan, estimated at 70 percent. The Jordanians – by the way – claim that the Palestinians are no more than 30 percent. The main task of the monarchy since then has always been to unite the two main components of the population: the Bedouins and the Palestinians. In recent years this task has been given the name “Jordan First”, which is to say that all of the residents of Jordan should adopt the common Jordanian national identity, and rise above their traditional cultural differences. Just how effective this campaign has been is subject to disagreement. The king and his supporters speak of “holy unity”, while the Palestinians speak about a feeling of being pushed to the sidelines. This feeling of theirs stems from the fact that government positions are usually given to Bedouins, while the Palestinians are prevented from taking any significant part in governing, and therefore they mainly employed within the private economic sector. Usually the Palestinians are merchants, contractors, professionals and academics; and the Bedouins are officers in the military, police and the Muchabarat (internal intelligence).
Some changes have occurred over the years between the state of Jordan and the Palestinians living within its territory. The first watershed event was the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank in 1948, an occupation that was not internationally recognized. Residents of the West Bank received Jordanian citizenship after the conquest; however the Bedouin governing power related to them as hostile aliens – whoever among them dared to speak of Palestinian identity endangered his life.
A second event was the murder of Abdullah at the entrance of the Al-Aksa mosque in 1951. The claim was that the murder was a result of the negotiations that Abdullah held with the representatives of the Zionist movement. He had no problem negotiating with the Zionists, because he had no special interest in the part of Palestine that was west of the Jordan River and therefore he was willing to give it up to enable the establishment of a Jewish state.