The ties between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories run deep. The three entities came from a single political bloc in the early 20th century, and their fates have been intertwined ever since. Since the early 1990s, when King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan has been a major player in the ongoing negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. King Abdullah II, who came into power in 1999, has continued this effort. Most recently, in early January 2012, Jordan hosted a series of exploratory meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
While the results of this most recent round of talks remain unclear, at the very least they served to reinforce the country’s reputation as a stable, moderate mediator in a volatile region. As many of the kingdom’s neighbours struggle with Arab Spring-related infighting and violence, the nation’s solid reputation could potentially result in Jordan achieving a new prominence in the Middle East in the coming years.
CHANGING BORDERS: For the first half of the 20th century the area on either side of the Jordan River was considered a single political and geographical entity. From 1900 through the early 1920s, Palestine – which included modern-day Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – was officially under the faltering Ottoman empire. In 1922, the UK, which had captured Jerusalem from the Turks at the end of the First World War, took control of the area, named the British Mandate for Palestine. Under the mandate, the UK divided the region into two administrative areas.
Under this arrangement the land west of the Jordan River, known as Palestine, was placed under direct British control, and remained so until 1948. Land east of the river, which was known at the time as Transjordan, became a British mandate under the rule of the Hashemites, a powerful clan from the Hejaz, in Saudi Arabia. In 1946, when the British annulled the mandate after the conclusion of the Second World War, Transjordan became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. King Abdullah I, who had ruled Transjordan since the early 1920s, presided over the new country until his assassination in 1951. At the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the monarch was called upon at the Jericho Conference to unite the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which he managed to accomplish through deft diplomacy. Another major outcome of the war was the migration of around 700,000 Palestinian refugees into Jordan. Israel took the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, which also resulted in an additional 300,000 Palestinians entering the nation, bringing the total to around 1m.
Over the next few decades Jordan was a major player in the negotiations surrounding the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1994 King Hussein concluded talks between the two countries, resulting in both he and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signing the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. This made Jordan the second Arab country to achieve peace with Israel (after Egypt, which had signed a similar peace treaty in 1979). The peace treaty was closely related to the signing in 1993 of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
A MEDIATING FORCE: Over the past 20 years Jordan has played an important and ever-expanding role in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Jordan’s leaders are uniquely qualified on this issue – according to the government, Jordan is home to 41% of the Palestinian refugees in the world, which is one reason why the country’s policymakers consider the peace process a vital national interest. In early January 2012 Jordan hosted a series of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, meeting for the first time since failed talks in late 2010.
In the months leading up to the round of negotiations in Amman, King Abdullah II visited Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and received Shimon Peres, Israel’s president. The relationship remained unresolved, with a number of major issues in dispute. Jordan will continue working at helping both sides to resolve the conflict in the coming years.
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